Plagiarism case continues for education professor

An MSU professor awaits an assessment from MSU’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies this week as a research integrity officer addresses accusations of plagiarism by a Midland-based policy think tank.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, or the Mackinac Center, first suggested Sharif Shakrani, a senior scholar at the MSU Education Policy Center, might have plagiarized parts of an academic report published about two weeks ago.

The report was commissioned by the Booth News Service as part of Michigan 10.0, a new series for the Grand Rapids Press, said Julie Hoogland, education editor for the Grand Rapids Press.

The series addresses reinventing the state and incorporated Shakrani’s report, which addressed the possibilities of cutting school expenses by consolidating Michigan schools along county lines.

“Plagiarism in any form is unacceptable,” Hoogland said. “MSU is doing the right thing in determining whether that occurred in this case, but at the same time the Press remains satisfied with Dr. Shakrani’s calculations.”

Michael Jahr, senior director of communications for the Mackinac Center, said the center stumbled upon portions of the allegedly plagiarized report after Education Policy Director Michael Van Beek raised concerns about the report’s legitimacy and began comparing the MSU study to the Syracuse
University study on which it was based.

“The opening paragraphs were the same,” Jahr said. “There were no attributions, no footnotes. We found a large number of places where text was nearly verbatim. So what started out as concern for inadequate scholarship led us to what appears to be plagiarism.”

Jahr said the Mackinac Center contacted Shakrani, the Grand Rapids Press and notified media outlets across the state, but did not contact the university. The Mackinac Center also refuted Shakrani’s report asserting that the report’s methodology was flawed.

James Pivarnik, a research integrity officer for the university, has taken up the allegations in a preliminary assessment, the first step of a potential three-step process, to determine whether plagiarism was committed.

Shakrani refused to comment on the plagiarism case, but said he stands by his work.

“It’s important to note that this is a mathematical exercise,” he said. “There are other reasons why people do not like consolidation, like the Mackinac Center. They don’t like it for political reasons. (The report) is not an advocacy for consolidation as much as a ‘What if?’ in terms of a dollar sign.”

Jahr said the Mackinac Center would have done an academic disservice if it hadn’t revealed its findings.

“In this case, a prominent study that was getting lots of media coverage and attention in Lansing was found to only have one key source and numerous appearances of plagiarism,” he said.

Pivarnik said the preliminary assessment most likely will take a few weeks and the entire case potentially could take more than a year to be resolved.

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