Former student forced to withdraw, sues KSU

Rebecca Reis, Vivian Feke


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Video by Vivian Feke

Carrie Pfeiffer-Fiala, former doctoral candidate in the College of Education, has filed a lawsuit against Kent State for two counts of breach of contract and one count each of defamation, unjust enrichment and negligent supervision.

Pfeiffer-Fiala claims she was wrongly forced to withdraw in January 2013 under claims that she had plagiarized in a rough draft of her dissertation, even though she had told her professor that the early draft still had incomplete citations that she planned to revisit.

“I had been working on different ideas along the way, and the professor had said, ‘Just turn something in. Just turn something in. Don’t worry about the citations, just turn it in, and then we’ll sort through the logistics and come back to the table as a committee to discuss it,’” said Pfeiffer-Fiala, who received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Kent State in 1991 and 2000, respectively. “And so that was the premise that I was working on, was that it wasn’t meant or intended to be complete by any means.”

University Policy Register Chapter 3-01.8 paragraph (B)(2)(c) states plagiarism includes “the presentation of work prepared by another in final or draft form as one’s own without citing the source, such as the use of purchased research papers.”

The accusations came in November 2012, when Pfeiffer-Fiala was called in to discuss her draft with a committee. In January she met with the Academic Hearing Panel when she was forced to withdraw. She appealed the decision and asked to meet with the provost. Her request was denied, and from there she decided to file a lawsuit.

“There was no point in any way that I tried to intentionally misguide somebody,” Pfeiffer-Fiala said. “This was a 55-page document that needed sorted out and I had said that. I was told, ‘Turn in something. Get something on the plate before the end of the semester,’ so that’s what I did, and I feel very disappointed, so I’m hopeful that it all works out.”

Pfeiffer-Fiala also said procedures leading up to the Academic Hearing Panel were not followed. Kent State plagiarism policy states that a cheating/plagiarism sanction form be filled out by the instructor and sent to the Office of Student Conduct, which will then send it to the accused student. Pfeiffer-Fiala claims this form was not filed, and this gave her an unfair disadvantage when defending herself against accusations.

“It was scary, really, I mean when you’re the student and all these people are surrounding you, and you’re not quite sure what exactly is happening or why,” Pfeiffer-Fiala said. She said the Academic Hearing Panel felt like a formality.

“We provided quite a bit of information to the panel, but the decision was turned around in such a short period of time that it was evident that they had not considered it or looked at it or read it,” Pfeiffer-Fiala said. “It felt very much like the decision was already made before I even went in there for the most part.”

In the suit, Pfeiffer-Fiala is requesting to be reinstated at Kent State or receive her Education Specialist Degree, which she met the requirements for before her dissertation, and for monetary damages.

“My goal is that they recognize the injustice that was done and that my record is remediated back to the way that it should be … So I think at the minimum they should award me what I’ve already earned, and, of course, I’d like to go on and complete the Ph.D. at a university.”

Todd Kamenash, director of the Office of Student Conduct, said he could not comment on specific cases, but gave some general background on what constitutes plagiarism.

“Plagiarism, especially in academic environment, is basically not giving credit where credit is due,” Kamenash said. “So when someone has authored something and you borrow that to use for your research material, your exam, your paper, if you don’t provide appropriate documentation of where you got it, that’s plagiarism.”

Currently, the case is pending at the Ohio Court of Claims and has been diverted toward mediation, said Oliver Koo, one of Pfeiffer-Fiala’s attorneys, and they hope to meet with attorney representatives of Kent State and reach a resolution before resorting to the courts. University spokeswoman Emily Vincent said the university is reviewing the lawsuit and is unable to comment on pending litigation.

Kristie Pretti-Frontzcak, the professor listed in the lawsuit as in charge of supervising Pfeiffer-Fiala’s dissertation, was unable to be reached for comment.

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Pfeiffer-Fiala lawsuit (PDF)

Pfeiffer-Fiala lawsuit (Text)

Contact Rebecca Reis at [email protected].