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24 August 2007



August 24, 2007

Contact: Joe Serviss (256-782-5003)



The Jacksonville State University Integrity in Communications Committee presented their final report and recommendations to University President Dr. William A. Meehan on Friday.

Recent columns published in The Jacksonville News, under the byline of Dr. Meehan, contained information that was not properly cited. These columns were written by the recently retired Director of JSU’s News Bureau who was working part-time to ghostwrite the weekly “Town & Gown” column.

Dr. Meehan charged the Integrity in Communications Committee on August 9, to conduct an extensive and thorough review of all communications generated by the JSU News Bureau.

The Committee was chaired by retired Seventh Judicial Circuit Court Judge Sam Monk and also included Dr. Glen Browder, former Alabama Secretary of State, former Member of the United States Congress, and JSU Professor Emeritus of Political Science and American Democracy; Dr. Michael E. Malone, former Executive Director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education and former President of Troy University – Dothan; Mr. Chris Waddle, President of the Ayers Family Institute for Community Journalism, Director of Knight Community Journalism Fellows at the University of Alabama and a former Editor of The Anniston Star; and Ms. Felicia Mason, Executive Director of the Alabama Press Association.


“I want to stress that the Committee found no evidence of culpability or failure of leadership on the part of the President,” Judge Monk said. “The exceptional integrity of Dr. Meehan is underscored by the fact that our Committee was given a charge by him to act independently and go wherever the facts might lead without regard to consequences. Additionally, he appointed as members, persons of varied disciplines with no individual agendas or allegiances other than the truth.”


The Committee made several recommendations to Dr. Meehan, which he accepted with expressed appreciation.


“I appreciate the efforts and all the hard work of the Committee,” said Dr. Meehan. “They have provided the University with a very comprehensive review of the University’s external communications and also provided us with several recommendations that we will examine.”


 A copy of the report was also provided to the University’s Board of Trustees for their review.




A copy of the report follows:






AUGUST 24, 2007



The Integrity in Communications Committee was chartered on the initiative of Dr. William A. Meehan, Jacksonville State University (JSU) President, as an ad hoc committee to investigate recent charges of plagiarism and to present its findings and make such recommendations as it deemed appropriate. The Committee is composed of Dr. Glen Browder, former Alabama Secretary of State, former Member of the United States Congress and JSU Professor Emeritus of Political Science and American Democracy; Dr. Michael E. Malone, former Executive Director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education and former President of Troy University – Dothan; Mr. Chris Waddle, President of the Ayers Family Institute for Community Journalism, Director of Knight Community Journalism Fellows at the University of Alabama and a former Editor of The Anniston Star; Ms. Felicia Mason, Executive Director of the Alabama Press Association; and Judge Samuel H. “Sam” Monk II, Retired-Active Circuit Judge and Attorney.  The Committee has completed its work and now reports its findings and recommendations.

The Committee acted as an independent, autonomous body.  There was no involvement of the President of Jacksonville State University other than his appointment of this Committee and his appearance before the Committee at the Committee’s request.  The Committee, even though not subject to the Alabama Open Meetings Act, operated under the spirit of the Act in the interest of transparency.  The Committee also produced written minutes and recorded all meetings.  Press releases announcing all meetings were sent to numerous news media throughout the state and media representatives were in attendance at Committee meetings.  Codes of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists and of the Public Relations Society of America were made available to members of the Committee.

The Committee interviewed President Meehan; Mr. Tim Garner, Special Assistant to the President; Mr. Jerome “Jerry” G.  Chandler, JSU Assistant Professor of Communications, Department of Communications, former news reporter and accomplished author; and Dr. Robert “Bob” P. Felgar III, JSU Professor and Head, Department of English.  The Committee reviewed University faculty, staff and student handbooks to ascertain the existence of standards relating to University academic honesty.  The Committee also reviewed the various news articles, editorial comments and columns in The Anniston Star, The Jacksonville News, The Birmingham News and The Montgomery Advertiser.    The Committee communicated with Mr. Jeff Youngblood, the author of the original letter to Consolidated Publishing Company newspapers that brought the instant topic of inquiry to light. The Committee conducted two executive sessions during which matters of good name and character of individuals were discussed. Lastly, the Committee members offered their respective insights and various opinions derived, in part, from their disciplines and backgrounds.

Findings and Conclusions

On consideration of the information obtained during its investigation, the Committee finds and concludes:

  • That for several years the University has released to The Jacksonville News, a Consolidated Publishing Company newspaper of general circulation in Calhoun County, Alabama, articles for publication in a regularly appearing column, “Town & Gown.”  The articles, distributed by the Jacksonville State University News Bureau as an informational and public relations outreach, have generally been on light topics of general or community interest. Though written by staff, releases were transmitted with Dr. Meehan shown as the nominal author.
  • That on three identified (3) occasions (July 4, 2007, August 1, 2007, and August 8, 2007), published articles contained material taken from commercial Internet websites without attribution or sufficient attribution as to source. This conduct clearly meets the definition of plagiarism. The Committee through its contact with Mr. Jeff Youngblood, the writer of the original communication through which the media and the University were alerted to the problem, has determined that Mr. Youngblood is unaware of any additional incidents of plagiarism other than those originally identified.
  • That University staff, on request of the Committee, has undertaken a diligent search and analysis of prior news releases and articles through the use of Internet search engines such as Google™ and more sophisticated software applications specifically designed to analyze documents for originality of content. The ongoing search has not identified any additional suspect releases to date.
  • The Committee has found no discernable evidence that President Meehan knew or had reason to know that articles written and released over his name and office contained plagiarized material. Mr. Al Harris, the unnamed author, a longtime member of the News Bureau staff, has publicly accepted personal responsibility and is no longer employed by the University; in a recent letter to the Editor of The Anniston Star, he cited health factors as explanation for both his retirement and the problem columns. Dr. Meehan, as University President and nominal author, has accepted appropriate administrative responsibility, will be apologizing to the authors or publishers of the works not properly credited and, as previously stated, has caused this Committee to be chartered to independently identify, quantify and analyze any journalistic shortcomings or failures, known or discoverable, and to ultimately make appropriate recommendations to the administration on suggested remedial and preventative measures.
  • It is axiomatic that all institutions must function through staff and even where institutional ethics are of the highest caliber, the failure of one individual or office to uphold expected standards and without sufficient processes in place to test compliance with policy or to identify and prevent failures can tarnish the reputation of the institution itself.
  • The Committee strongly supports the proposition that plagiarism at any level of an institution is unacceptable and at a university, reprehensible. The Committee finding that there is no evidence that President Meehan knew or had any reason to know that “Town & Gown” articles being written and released as a public service with his name as author were plagiarized, any failure, other than individual failure by the actual author, was of one process or, perhaps, lack of appropriate process.
  • The Committee requested that staff poll other institutions, primarily educational and professional, regarding mission statements, policies, procedures and codes of ethics governing their “news bureaus”, public information or public relations offices or similar offices. Other than ethical codes developed by professional associations, there are currently in place few identified formal internal guidelines at institutions similar to Jacksonville State. Any existing “guidelines” appear to be more of common understanding in the field of journalism and public relations than adopted, codified ones. The Committee concludes that such an approach of relying on an informal, common understanding of appropriate standards of conduct does not serve the interests of the institution, its administration, faculty, staff and student body.

The foregoing considered, the Committee recommends to the President of Jacksonville State University, Dr. William A. Meehan, the following:

  1. The office responsible for the release of information to the public and media, whether outreach, publicity, news or emergency, should be directly responsible to an appropriate vice-president whose duty it should be to ensure the proper functioning and accountability of that office as well as the quality of its work product.
  1. The director of that office should be a person of the highest professional and ethical standards who is unconditionally committed to journalistic and academic integrity.
  1. The office should have a “mission statement” that defines the purpose of the office, and its goals, boundaries and standard of conduct.
  1. The University should adopt an appropriate “Code of Ethics” to which the news bureau or public information office, and its entire staff, including student workers, should be required to subscribe. Though existing codes of professional associations currently exist, the University should undertake to develop its own code giving consideration to the fact the office serves as a news bureau, a public information office, a public relations outlet and a training site for students.
  1. It is suggested that the University establish a process of checks, balances and cross-checks to verify the integrity of its informational releases.
  1. That it is recommended that the President undertake to initiate and lead appropriate University discussions on academic integrity as it relates to this report.

A copy of this report will be forwarded to the Board of Trustees of Jacksonville State University with this committee’s finding that President Meehan moved with dispatch to accept responsibility for the issues we investigated and to seek the recommendations of this Committee for corrective policies.  Consequently, this Committee finds the President’s role, in the matter which was the subject of our investigation, in no way draws into question his integrity, his credibility or his ability to continue leading this academic institution as President. 


The Committee, now having completed its work as charged, requests that the President formally accept its report and dissolve the Committee. Should the Committee process be utilized in adopting any recommended mission statement, internal processes or code of ethics, this Committee suggests that the group charged with that responsibility be established by the administration with the same regard for variety in discipline and experience as this Committee.

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