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Woman plagiarized by OSU graduate speaks out

An Ohio State graduate, Elisabeth Nixon, agreed in December to pay Montana Miller, an assistant professor in the department of popular culture at Bowling Green State University, to settle a federal plagiarism lawsuit. Miller spoke out for the first time to The Lantern.

In a letter to Nixon from Timothy Curry, coordinator of OSU’s Committee on Academic Misconduct, the OSU committee found Nixon guilty of plagiarism on her dissertation titled “Playing Devil’s Advocate on the Path to Heaven: Evangelical Hell Houses and the Play of Politics, Fear and Faith” in May of 2010.

The committee ordered Nixon to return her diploma to the University Registrar immediately. She was retroactively dismissed from OSU effective Summer Quarter 2006, and the committee also requested that OSU remove any copies of her doctoral dissertation from OSU libraries. Nixon appealed the ruling to Provost Joseph Alutto, but the decision was upheld.

Miller, who earned her Ph.D. in folklore and mythology at UCLA in 2003, then sued Nixon in August of 2010 for “damages and any profit Nixon might have earned from the copied material.” The complaint also asked that any and all material containing unauthorized excerpts be destroyed. She also requested that Nixon stop copying her work.

In federal court, Nixon agreed to pay $15,000 to the plaintiff, Miller. It was decided that she pay the amount of $222.22 every month, for 44 months, and another $222.32 before Sept. 1, 2014. If all payments are made on time, Nixon will not have to pay the remaining agreement of $5,000, according to court documents. If these guidelines are not met, Miller has the right to request the full amount immediately.

“This whole experience has been hard on me both professionally and personally,” Miller said.

After Nixon’s lawyer told her to contact The Lantern, she choose not to comment.

OSU’s Committee on Academic Conduct has a Code of Student Conduct handbook. Section 3335-23-04 says, “Any student found to have engaged, or attempted to engage in submitting plagiarized work for an academic requirement, will be subject to disciplinary action by the university.”

OSU found Nixon guilty under these guidelines and revoked her degree May 14.

Tom Matrka, a graduate of Ohio University and current graduate student at OSU in mechanical engineering, said he is concerned about the integrity of university-awarded degrees. Matrka was a graduate student at Ohio University and was one step away from completing his degree, and in his preparation for his master’s thesis, researched other dissertations and ran into some obvious cases of plagiarism. It has been his personal endeavor to protect the integrity of all degrees by reading graduate dissertations, looking for cases of plagiarism.

While his efforts to protect the integrity of degrees are widely documented on his blog, “Ohio University Plagiarism,” Matrka said he was very impressed with the way OSU dealt with the issue involving Nixon and Miller.

“I want Ohio State to do the right thing. I want to be proud of my degree,” Matrka said. “Sure enough, they did not mess around with (Nixon).”

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