The Chronicle of Higher Education 52. 49 (Aug 11, 2006): A8-A11.
by Paula Wasley
Former student Tom Matrka has made a hobby of uncovering plagiarism in masters’ theses at Ohio University, and thus far has found thirty examples. The university was slow to act on his discoveries, and a scandal has erupted over the plagiarism.
In a conference room in Ohio University’s Vernon R. Alden Library, Thomas A. Matrka takes just 15 minutes to hit pay dirt.
Scattered before him on a table are 16 chemical-engineering master’s theses on “multiphase flow.” He examines them in pairs. With a hand on each manuscript, eyes darting back and forth, he quickly scans the pages.
Identical diagrams in two theses from 1997 and 1998 strike him as suspicious. Turning a few more pages, he confirms what he suspected.
“This one needs to be turned in,” he says, pointing to an introductory chapter that not only mirrors the structure and content of the earlier one, but also includes whole paragraphs that are virtually identical. “This guy didn’t do a literature review,” he says. “His literature review was opening this guy’s and copying it.”
He reaches for another thesis. “Give me time,” he says. “I’ll find some more.”
Over the past two years, ferreting out plagiarism has become Tom Matrka’s hobby, maybe even his obsession. And he’s gotten very good at it. So adept, in fact, that the former graduate student at Ohio University — now a project engineer at a nearby explosives factory - - has single-handedly blown the lid off a hugeplagiarism scandal at his alma mater. Dozens of former students are now caught up in the investigation, several professors have been reprimanded, and the university is wrestling with how one department fostered a culture of academic cheating.
Regardless of whether Mr. Matrka was driven by revenge or ethics, this much is certain: The scandal would never have erupted without one graduate student’s doggedness.