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West Liberty University’s Board of Governors last fall voted to publicly censure its president. W. Franklin Evans was accused by the school’s faculty senate of plagiarizing sections of his speeches since taking office in January 2021.
Evans admitted to at least one instance of failed accreditation, while a national news publication called Inside Higher Ed, alleged that he failed to give proper attribution in not one, but several speeches.
Recently, a survey of the school’s faculty was conducted, gauging their level of support for Evans since the censure last year. More than 80 percent of respondents to that survey disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “I am confident in the integrity of President Evans.”
Evans has said he thinks the survey was unfair and that race plays a major role in his continued criticism. Evans is the university’s first Black president.
In a statement to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, West Liberty’s Faculty Senate Chairman Sean Ryan said, “There has been a lot of reporting lately on the faculty survey here at West Liberty. Overwhelmingly, faculty responses compel me to make a statement to properly contextualize this situation.
The survey was intended to be an internal effort to provide candid feedback to the president and the board of governors. It is important to keep in mind that the genesis of this is rooted in behavior. As the president acknowledged … he compromised his integrity last fall. When the board of governors censured him on Nov. 3, they also tasked him with rebuilding trust and unifying the campus, and they were clear that he would be evaluated.
This survey provides the president and the board candid feedback toward those objectives. The Board Governance Committee indicated before the survey went out that they wanted to see the results and would include the information in their assessment. They collect feedback from across the campus and board in their routine process. The president and the board have the information from the faculty and I am told that they will review it.”
The board of governors is expected to meet on Friday, May 6 at 10 a.m.
President Evans sat down remotely with West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s education reporter Liz McCormick on Tuesday to discuss the situation.
The transcript below is from the original broadcast, which was shortened for time. Listen to the extended version of the interview to hear more of the conversation.
McCormick: I want to share with our listeners that you and your staff requested this interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Let’s begin our conversation by hearing your side of the story. First, when it comes to those accusations of plagiarism last year.
Evans: I acknowledged the fact that during our fall convocation, as I was providing tips, and certainly, motivation and encouragement to our freshmen students, that I did use some information, and I did not attribute it to the person, well, persons who actually came up with it. And once I did that, I actually apologized, not only verbally, but also in writing. There were other allegations in other speeches. There were things that I did not cite, and that the faculty certainly went through great lengths to go through and do some type of plagiarism check on every speech that I’ve done.
But it was not my intent to even give anyone the impression that those were my words. I was just trying to provide a framework of knowledge, information that would help our students to be successful. I sent out my apologies and I vowed that I would be much more careful as I’m speaking to make sure that even if it’s something that I’m familiar with, I am much more mindful and careful now that I’ve got eyes and ears watching and listening to me. So I don’t want to give the impression that I purposefully take the writings of the words of other people and misuse them.
McCormick: President Evans, I feel I have to ask, when you think about a university president, and you think about a college, anyone who’s gone through college, there’s always those warnings ahead of the class – plagiarism is a big no, no. And considering everything that’s happened, everything that’s transpired, if a student at West Liberty, on three or four occasions, were to lift passages from various sources for either papers or presentations without attribution – should a student that would do this get at least one pass?
Evans: You know, we have a policy here at the university that deals with plagiarism. It’s in the student handbook. There are parameters and guidelines that faculty members are expected to follow, that allows them some leeway and some freedoms. But, as I’ve said before, to others, that whatever that policy is, faculty members and others are expected to adhere to it. So in many instances, it does fall upon the professor’s ability to proceed and move in a manner that he or she thinks is appropriate.
McCormick: Now, back to this recent survey of your faculty. The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that the survey was leaked to them anonymously – that 149 faculty members responded, and more than 80 percent of them disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, ‘I am confident in the integrity of President Evans.’ How do you respond to the findings in this survey?
Evans: Well, you mentioned that 149 people responded. It has come to my attention that although we have 149 full time faculty members, the survey was distributed to many more persons than the 149 individuals. And so I’m not sure who actually responded. I was told that members of the cabinet had received a survey, and I can tell you that my cabinet members are not faculty members. And although there are 149 faculty members, the survey went out to about 235 individuals. So I’m not sure who made up that list, nor am I aware as to whether the 149 respondents were all faculty members. So that within itself, lets me know that the survey has some inadequacies.
Aside from that, if it was a survey that was designed to certainly assess what I am doing as a president, I think that it is only fitting that as the president, and the person who is the subject of this particular instrument, that I would have had the opportunity, or at least when this was being designed, to sit down with them to make sure that the items of the survey were appropriate, were relevant, were meaningful, were realistic expectations. That was not done.
And then when I look very specifically at the survey, the things that I’m being assessed on, I don’t think they were even realistic. And some of the things in my opinion, were not appropriate things that a president does, but the expectation that apparently some faculty members have for the president certainly does not align with how I view the role of the president.
McCormick: You have outlined why you feel this survey is unfair. You have also said, you feel the continued criticism you’ve been receiving is race related, part of a series of microaggressions and discrimination on West Liberty’s campus. Why do you think this? And would you give us some examples?
Evans: This is 2022 in America, and I don’t have to just focus on West Liberty University. Across this country, time and time again, there are instances of discrimination. There are instances of microaggression. And so to think that here on the campus of West Liberty, we’re in a bubble, and we’re immune from society, that would be a mistake to make such an assessment. But the fact that I am here on campus, and that I feel I am being viewed very differently and treated very differently, the expectations for me are very different than my predecessors.
For example, I think one of the survey items talked about the president’s integrity, and what is integrity? Well, in my opinion, integrity is being honest. Integrity is accepting responsibility and being accountable. Integrity is being uplifting, encouraging. Integrity is keeping your word. And so that’s how I view integrity. But when I look at those persons who are making a decision, or providing their perception about me and my integrity, ‘are you holding your own self to the same standard? Are you being honest? Are you keeping your word?’
You talked about the survey being leaked, when the faculty senate said that it would not be. It was going to be an internal type of document, so apparently, someone went against their word. So I’m being held to a higher standard than apparently other individuals are. And so when I look at why this is occurring, certainly, it leads one to believe that it really is race related.
**Please listen to the extended version of this interview to hear the full conversation.