Cambridge professor stays on despite plagiarism

A Cambridge University professor who copied parts of an undergraduate student’s essays and published them as his own work will remain in his post, despite an investigation upholding a plagiarism claim.

Dr. William O’Reilly, associate professor of modern history, submitted an article that was published in the Journal of Austrian-American History in 2018. However, large parts of the work had been copied from essays by one of his undergraduate students.

The decision to leave O’Reilly in the post casts doubt on Cambridge’s internal disciplinary processes, which rely on academics judging their peers.

The plagiarism was discovered in 2021 when the former student at the time came across the article and informed the university, providing evidence that entire pages of the article had been extracted almost verbatim from two of his essays. .

Plagiarism is considered “serious or gross misconduct” by the university, which states that it “will normally merit dismissal”, according to the university’s misconduct policy.

But after a two-year investigation, O’Reilly remains in his role after a university disciplinary tribunal ruled the plagiarism was “the product of negligent acts but was not deliberate”. The final decision was revealed to parties involved in the process in May.

O’Reilly was once embroiled in a case that raised questions about university governance and led to the resignation of a senior academic administrator.

Tortoise, an independent outlet, revealed in 2020 that O’Reilly was allowed to conduct disciplinary proceedings over sexual assault allegations at Trinity Hall, the Cambridge college he was affiliated with, even after he himself was accused by a student of sexual assault. assault.

O’Reilly denies the allegations, which have led to no further action being taken against him.

A university employee who spoke on condition of anonymity acknowledged that internal processes on plagiarism had been followed, but said: “There’s quite a bit of dissatisfaction about it.”

Cambridge said it would be “inappropriate to comment in detail on the allegations against any member of staff”. The article in question had been removed from the newspaper, he added.

“A panel of independent university members reviewed the issues and the matter is now closed. We will not comment further.”

He did not comment on how the court concluded the plagiarism was accidental.

Documents seen by the Financial Times, including two essays submitted by the third-year student, show that almost half of the pages of the article published by O’Reilly – titled “Fredrick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis, Orientalism, and the Austrian Militärgrenze” – had been plagiarized. .

The documents also show that O’Reilly read and praised the original essays. The handwritten comments call an article “an excellent job”, adding: “You have invented an original narrative. . . you create a new study.

O’Reilly’s article was removed from the Journal of Austrian-American History with a note that the content of the article “was presented without credit”.

He added: “Since the author does not dispute that uncredited material is included, the editor and the publisher wish to withdraw the article.”

Penn State University Press, which manages the journal, said: “The editor of [the journal] brought this situation to our attention as soon as it became aware of it and, in response, the press quickly removed the article and issued a retraction statement”.

O’Reilly did not respond to requests for comment.

The original author of the essays confirmed he had complained and said he was “baffled” by the conclusion, but otherwise declined to comment.

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