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Catching Up: Court rules to release records on UW-Oshkosh plagiarism investigation

May 6, 2019

A Wisconsin circuit court ruled in favor of releasing to the Wisconsin State Journal records relating to an investigation of alleged plagiarism by a UW-Oshkosh professor who sued to block release of the records.

Two other UW-Oshkosh professors joined the suit as intervenors to say the subject of the records, English professor Christine Roth, made statements in an affidavit that are “false” and “defamatory.”

The State Journal requested records on the academic misconduct investigation into Roth on Oct. 9. Before releasing records of closed employee misconduct investigations, the law requires a records custodian notify the subject of the records — in this case, Roth — of the impending release.

Roth’s attorney, Peter Culp of Dempsey Law Firm, filed suit in late November to block release of the records because he said the law favors nondisclosure of the records and overrides the public’s interest in the documents.

Culp argued that release of the records would cause unfair damage to the employee’s reputation, lead to a loss of morale among public employees and cause “an increased level of embarrassment.” He also said some information in the record is factually inaccurate.

On April 3, Winnebago Circuit Court judge Barbara Key disagreed with those arguments and ordered the records be released after a written order is adopted and 20-day appeal period passes.

Asked if his client intends to appeal, Culp said, “No final decision has yet been made.”

Miles Maguire, a UW-Oshkosh journalism professor, and Roberta Maguire, an English professor, joined the suit to correct “willful and intentional falsehoods” made by Roth that could cause the Maguires “permanent reputational damage,” according to their motion.

In a sworn affidavit, Roth said Roberta Maguire previously chaired the English department and “made some friends and enemies with her management style and personality.” Roth asserts Maguire was friendly with another professor whose research interest in Victorian literature overlapped with Roth’s, sparking a “crusade” to discredit Roth.

The Maguires argue one or both of them have been subject to an “ongoing campaign of harassment and defamation” because one of them played a role in the investigation into Roth. They also said her affidavit has led to an “environment of dysfunction” and the departure of several faculty members in the department.