LaPlaca hiring is eye-opener

Shelley Blundell

Former Kent State Stark history professor Jaclyn LaPlaca is a liar. Think TV’s “The Pretender,” but on a smaller yet more reprehensible scale.

As a history graduate and journalism major, I have always known the importance of researching facts to ensure their validity. But never in my wildest dreams did I think that same lust for truth should apply to the credentials of my instructors.

When I was a history student at Kent State Stark, I knew LaPlaca well. We often spoke about various history issues, especially international history, and many times I volunteered for programs she helped organize on campus.

Above all, in the two years LaPlaca taught at Kent State Stark, I came to consider her as more than a professor – I considered her a friend.

Needless to say, I was shocked when rumors began to run rampant on our small campus about her allegedly “fake” degrees last year. I could not believe that a university as distinguished and established as Kent State could have missed something so monumental.

But miss it they did, and I feel betrayed. By LaPlaca, and most disturbingly, by Kent State.

As students, we enter into a contract with the university, pledging to complete the necessary requirements to obtain a degree. In turn, the university promises to give us the tools to aid us in that pursuit and, should we hold up our end of the contract, grant us a degree. Students should not have to question whether the “tool-givers” are sufficiently trained to do their job – we naturally assume the university has a system in place to ensure they are. Apparently, that system does not always work.

What is most disheartening is that Gayle Ormiston, associate provost for faculty affairs and curriculum, said the university will not make any policy changes when hiring faculty, and acknowledges no harm done to students, who were assured their courses “would still count.”

This is unacceptable.

Despite the implausibility and apparent fallibility of not having a standard hiring practice for faculty, it also raises this question: If LaPlaca can do it, who else teaching at Kent State has?

If new brooms truly do sweep clean, then it would seem only appropriate that our “new broom” Lester Lefton encourages an internal audit for valid credentials to ensure that no one else has slipped through the policy cracks that Ormiston feels need no revision.

As for the students whom Ormiston says have suffered no harm, I beg to differ. LaPlaca, like any other professor, would have been expected to comply with the plagiarism policy the university holds. As a plagiarist herself, how could she instill the importance of self-guided research in her students? Even worse, how do we know she didn’t plagiarize any of their work as her own?

Also, what of those students who may have failed one of her classes or received a bad grade that now hurts their GPA? Do they have any recourse? While I never took a class with LaPlaca, I have friends and fellow history majors who did, and they feel like I do – shocked, embarrassed and betrayed. Maybe it didn’t hurt them credit-wise that LaPlaca was a fraud, but as people who entrusted someone else with thoughts, ideas, opinions? Absolutely.

Someone dropped the ball on this one and it needs to be dealt with. One can only hope the person assigned to the task has the actual credentials to do so.

Shelley Blundell is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].