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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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