FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Joe Serviss (256-782-5003)
INTEGRITY IN COMMUNICATIONS
PRESENTS FINAL REPORT
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:
INTEGRITY IN COMMUNICATIONS COMMITTEE
OF THE PROCESS, FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS
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
- That for several years the University has released to
The Jacksonville News, a
Consolidated Publishing Company newspaper of general circulation in Calhoun County,
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
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- The office should have a “mission statement” that
defines the purpose of the office, and its goals, boundaries and standard
- 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.
- It is suggested that the University establish a
process of checks, balances and cross-checks to verify the integrity of
its informational releases.
- 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.