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story.lead_photo.caption Christina Munoz Madsen is shown in this 2017 file photo.

CONWAY -- The University of Central Arkansas president said Tuesday that a UCA executive who quoted from a Wikipedia definition of "science education" without attribution made an unintentional mistake.

Speaking to the UCA faculty senate, President Houston Davis said, "With my students, if I ever suspect that there is plagiarism, I want to better understand the intent," whether it was unintentional or intentional "for gain."

After the meeting, Davis was specifically asked about the plagiarism allegation against Christina Munoz Madsen, associate vice president for communications, public relations and marketing.

"I think it's absolutely unintentional," Davis said.

Davis declined to say whether Madsen had been disciplined.

He said the issue raises questions about the review, or editing, processes for such written material.

The plagiarism complaint had referred to a letter from the editor Madsen wrote for UCA Magazine.

The complaint noted that in the November edition, Madsen wrote in part, "Science education is actually defined as the field in which we share science content and process with individuals not traditionally considered part of the scientific community."

The complaint then said, "I thought it sounded strange so I checked the Internet. I learned that Ms. Madsen had taken this definition from Wikipedia, a site that no self-respecting academic would ever use for real research. Furthermore, she didn't even cite where the information was obtained from. In a classroom, this would be plagiarism. The highest form of academic fraud and we would never allow our students to do this. Why should she?"

An online search shows that a Wikipedia page says in part, "Science education is the field concerned with sharing science content and process with individuals not traditionally considered part of the scientific community."

Davis did not broach the plagiarism complaint until a member of the faculty senate -- Paulette Walter, associate professor of journalism -- asked about it.

When students plagiarize, they are held accountable, she said.

Davis said he "absolutely" opposes plagiarism and said such a mistake would give him the opportunity to sit down with the person "to see if it was intentional."

"What message are we sending to the students?" Walter asked. "Our students are asking" about the issue.

Walter noted that a previous UCA vice president of communications who taught a reporting class resigned over allegations of plagiarism in 2006. "He did have some other issues," she added.

Jen Talbot,* a member of the faculty senate and a UCA assistant professor in writing, said she had "serious ethical concerns" about Madsen's issue.

Madsen declined to comment on questions emailed to her Tuesday by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. They included whether she agreed with Davis' assessment, whether the Wikipedia usage was an isolated occurrence, and whether she neglected to attribute the definition.

"President Davis has addressed the matter and I have nothing further to add," she replied in an email.

UCA's student handbook lists plagiarism as a form of academic misconduct. Penalties for undergraduate students can vary but even on a first offense "may include a failing grade" on the assignment or the course if a teacher chooses.

By the third offense, if the student is not exonerated, the handbook provides that sanctions can vary and range up to expulsion.

State Desk on 03/14/2018

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled the surname of Jen Talbot, a faculty senator and assistant professor in writing.

Print Headline: Exec's Wikipedia citing unintentional, UCA chief concludes

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  • malice06220956
    March 14, 2018 at 7:38 a.m.

    Reason to be called on the carpet - but not dismissal. I'm still suspicious of the motives for this. Someone has a personal vendetta against Madsen - that's pretty clear. Something that should be settled in a private meeting with her supervisor- but it appears someone wants her dismissed. That is what needs to be investigated. Who is it and what is their motivation?

  • workerman
    March 14, 2018 at 9:05 a.m.

    Are there any other inconsequential personnel matters at UCA that this paper can investigate? Have any employees been written up for being 6 minutes late to work this week? Has anyone used a copy machine for personal use? Has anyone made a full pot of coffee late in the morning and only drank one cup?

    Are there any other females on staff that are assumed to be conservative and open about their Christian faith that can be smeared in print? Isn't that what this is really about anyways? Another example of the intolerance for diversity of thought in higher education?

  • Teedog
    March 14, 2018 at 9:46 a.m.

    In the world of academia plagiarism on any level is a serious breech of ethics, as well as it should be, and frankly there is no such thing as "unintentional" plagiarism. The attempt to brush this off as such is beneath any university administrative official. The fact that the alleged violator in this case is a popular, attractive, former television personality and is known as a "good person" should be of no consequence. The act speaks for itself. The plagiarism in this case appears to simply be a lazy shortcut, a cheat if you will, in a university publication by a person who is in a position of trust, and knows better. Add to it that when any person''s substantial salary and employee benefits are funded in part or entirely by public tax dollars, it makes it a public issue, and reportable by news media, especially when the person in question has been a well known media celebrity. However, with that said, none of us are saints, and we make mistakes. The level of accountability for employee mistakes should be left to the person's employment supervisors taking into account the facts in their totality, while remembering that others (students and faculty in this case) will be watching closely, should they be caught making similar violatons of conduct. Moreover, to attack the person who reported the ethics violation, albeit anonymously, is exactly why government whistleblower protection laws have been universally passed on state and federal levels in this country. The truth speaks for itself, no matter the motives of the reporting party.

  • workerman
    March 14, 2018 at 11:02 a.m.

    Teedog...give me a break. This is not a serious issue. The work in question is a PR, fluff, promotional piece that appears in a publication with the purpose of generating annual fund financial contributions. This is not some academic journal. The UCA Magazine editor's commentary can be found easily by searching: fall 2017 UCA magazine. It's clear the writer made no attempt to claim the idea as her own original "definition of science". Anyone who would read that article, google the text and create an issue like this is a borderline psychopath.

  • smmlv3
    March 14, 2018 at 11:11 a.m.

    Common sense is not very useful in academia. The description Ms. Madsen used was clear and concise. The necessity of citation of source is questionable in this instance given the fact that Wikipedia is a by-the-public, for-the-public website.

  • bjmc
    March 14, 2018 at 11:37 a.m.

    It is an easy mistake to make. However, crossing the lines of Public Relations is disturbing to me because it is intentional. PRSA guidelines might be a good read for some who aren't familiar with rules of the 'trade'.

  • Illinoisroy
    March 14, 2018 at 11:39 a.m.

    wonder if her maiden name has anything to do with motivation to continue to push this issue?

  • Michael7777
    March 14, 2018 at 11:40 a.m.

    'thought it sounded strange....", mean you have a personal issue with this woman (and apparently nothing else to do), so you started googling. Get a life, sir or madame.

  • Packman
    March 14, 2018 at 12:06 p.m.

    Are you f'ing kidding me? Some pithy little twerp makes an anonymous, frivolous complaint based purely on jealously and spite and the UCA President is asked for comment? What kind of "self-respecting academic" would ever make such a horsesh*t complaint?
    Hey Teedog - In the world of academia people are petty little weasels consumed with self-importance and disdain for people who actually work for a living, as opposed to preening before a classroom full of teenagers.

  • Teedog
    March 14, 2018 at 12:15 p.m.

    Sorry Workerman...can't give you a break on this one. One can spin it however they wish, but when a university Associate Vice President for Communications transposes words verbatim from one publication (internet or print) and presents them as her own in another publication, it is plagiarism by definition. Granted, this particular act of plagiarism may not be worthy of all the public scrutiny it is receiving, but ask a university level student who gets caught transposing verbatim a technical definition, or anything else, from Wikipedia to a simple report submitted just for a grade (not publucation) without citing the source, how seriously his or her instructor took it. In the present plagiarism case, it is not so much the seriousness of the act itself, but the position of the person who committed the act, i.e. a communications professional in a high profIle public job representing an entire academic institution. That person should be setting an example for the university, and rightly should be held to a high standard . By the way, I am guessing that all UCA students caught plagiarising internet sources in the future can now expect to not be held accountable by simply explaining that it was "unintentional".