Lapp, Manouchehri identified as math professors who violated research policy in $770,000 NSF grant
Math Professor Douglas Lapp and former math Professor Azita Manouchehri violated CMU’s research integrity policy while writing a grant proposal five years ago, according to investigative documents obtained by Central Michigan Life.
A committee organized by Interim Provost Gary Shapiro determined the two put together a National Science Foundation grant proposal for a multi-year project entitled “CONCEPT: Connecting Concept and Pedagogical Education of Pre-service Teachers.” The proposal was submitted in September 2004 with no involvement from other faculty.
The committee found uncited information from three different sources in the proposal, according to its report.
The total grant amount was $770,119, and the university spent $619,489 over the course of the project. The Board of Trustees decided to return the money at a Oct. 27 special meeting with other university funds after it determined the project could not be completed.
• For all Central Michigan Life coverage involving the National Science Foundation grant plagiarism, including documentation of the proposal, investigation, responses and research integrity policy, visit our landing page.
It was later revealed violations of the academic integrity policy were the primary reasons behind it.
“There’s two instances of plagiarism,” Shapiro said. “In essence, both the grant proposal, as well as the work output, were plagiarized.”
The committee found Manouchehri plagiarized the work output — a set of course materials designed to better teach math.
Lapp said he only had minimal involvement with the actual writing of the proposal and did not plagiarize. Instead, he said he was more involved with looking over the writing and providing Manouchehri with feedback.
“Oftentimes, there is one person who takes the lead of writing,” Lapp told CM Life. “I am at fault in the sense that I did not check my colleague’s work.”
Manouchehri, now a professor at Ohio State University, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Input from other members
Other project members had different takes on each professor’s involvement in the grant proposal, according to the documents.
Two members claimed Manouchehri wrote the proposal based off Lapp’s ideas. Another member said the proposal was a genuine collaboration, in which both individuals played a significant role.
Manouchehri informed a fourth member that she wrote the proposal, according to the documents. A sixth person who did not participate in the grant research also said Manouchehri wrote most of it.
Shapiro said he could not speak on each professor’s level of contribution other than what is presented in the report.
Lapp, who served as principal investigator of the research team, said it is not common practice for faculty to check each other’s work for issues such as plagiarism.
In a report from the investigation committee dated July 28, 2008, the committee states, “In this particular case, both Dr. Manouchehri, as a co-PI, and Dr. Lapp, as the PI, signed off on the proposal and the evidence supports the fact that they were each actively engaged in the proposal development.”
The report stated “gross negligence” was shown by the individual who copied and pasted the information into the proposal, while a certain level of “carelessness” was displayed from the individual who did not directly plagiarize, but still participated in forming the proposal.
Lapp said he received a letter from former Provost Julia Wallace, in which she stated Lapp had not plagiarized. But because he was the principal investigator, he was still held as partially responsible.
“Any grant proposal I submit for the next five years … has to be thoroughly checked,” he said.
Lapp was also required to attend an academic integrity workshop.
Steve Smith, CMU director of public relations, said the university has never seen a similar case before.
“To the best of my knowledge, this is an isolated incident,” he said.
Move to Ohio State
Manouchehri, who formerly taught at CMU, accepted a position at Ohio State University on June 25, 2007.
Just one day after that, Lisa DeMeyer, another math professor involved in the grant, brought up her concerns about Manouchehri and possible foul play.
CMU was originally considering subcontracting the agreement so Manouchehri could continue her portion of the research at OSU, but the idea was tossed aside after allegations started to mount.
An investigation into the controversy soon followed.
“Wayne Osborne, who at that time was interim vice provost for Research and Sponsored Programs, did an initial inquiry and reported that there was enough evidence to conduct an investigation,” Shapiro said.
Osborne reported the situation to Shapiro, who arranged to form an investigation committee. The committee members were Barbara Taylor, director of Faculty Personnel Services, and Kirsten Fleming of Northern Kentucky University. Janine Janosky, former vice provost of Research and Sponsored Programs, also worked with the committee.
After Manouchehri was accused of the violations, Shapiro notified administrators at OSU about the situation in a letter dated Dec. 21, 2007.
“The academic integrity policy calls for contacting and notifying the supervisor of an individual who is accused of violating it,” he said.
OSU spokeswoman Shelly Hoffman said she is unaware of the case, but would look into the matter with university administrators. As of late Thursday night, Hoffman did not have any additional information.
After calling for the investigation, Shapiro froze the grant funds in late December 2007. The $619,489 in grant money had already been spent, but no more money could be withdrawn from the grant all the way up to the recent decision by CMU to reimburse the NSF.
The allegations against the faculty members were not brought up at the October Board of Trustees meeting in which the reimbursement was approved. Shapiro said revealing all the details of the investigation at that time would not have been appropriate.
“We felt it was premature at that time to announce anything other than returning the funds, because in fact we were still engaged in some discussions and communication with the NSF,” he said.
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