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Iowa student from China reinstated after cheating admissions

February 5, 2019

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A University of Iowa student from China expelled for repeated academic misconduct has been re-admitted after the school failed to use his written admissions of wrongdoing against him in court, the school confirmed Tuesday.

A judge said last month that her order reinstating business student Pengzhen Yin now appears unjust given that Yin acknowledged plagiarizing the paper in question after he was sanctioned for cheating twice previously. But she said the university failed to provide Yin’s incriminating emails during appeals of the expulsion and she wasn’t aware of them before ruling that Iowa lacked “substantial evidence” of Yin’s plagiarism.

In one email, Yin admitted to a school official that “I didn’t write the paper” that he had been expelled for plagiarizing and asserted a friend paid someone else to compose it. In another, he said his serial cheating was the result of errors in judgment that deserved disciplinary action but not expulsion.

Yin, a China native who was a few credits short of a business degree before the expulsion, has re-enrolled this semester following District Judge Karen Romano’s December ruling overturning his expulsion. He’s on track to graduate this spring while the university appeals Romano’s decision, which the Iowa Supreme Court recently declined to put on hold. Yin’s attorney declined comment Tuesday, citing the pending appeal.

A humanities instructor in fall 2017 accused Yin of plagiarizing his final paper, saying it appeared to be written by a native speaker, didn’t match Yin’s style and included no personal examples. Following an investigation, the university found cause to support the accusation and expelled Yin because it was his third violation of the business school honor code. He had been sanctioned in 2015 for cheating on a test and in 2016 for copying another student’s quiz answers.

Yin, 24, appealed his expulsion to the Board of Regents, which upheld the decision last June. He appealed that decision in district court, arguing that the expulsion wasn’t based on “substantial evidence.”

Judge Romano agreed in her Dec. 6 ruling, saying Iowa “was never able to provide any solid evidence the paper had been written by anyone other than Yin.”

“Yin’s expulsion was based merely on ‘suspicion’ the paper may have been written by someone other than Yin,” she wrote, noting that Yin argued it didn’t match his prior writing because he had time to revise the paper throughout the semester.

One day after the ruling, university lawyers provided Yin’s emails to assistant attorney general George Carroll, who was representing the Board of Regents in court. Carroll wrote that he and the regents were previously unaware of them and asked Romano to reconsider her decision, saying Yin’s reinstatement would result in a “manifest injustice” given his admitted misconduct.

The emails were written in spring 2017 to officials in the provost’s office asking them to reconsider his expulsion. Since they were not considered in the decision to expel Yin, they weren’t included in the record sent to the regents when he appealed or to the court after that, university spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said.

In one, Yin acknowledged he didn’t write the paper as he had claimed during the misconduct investigation, blaming miscommunication due to his poor English skills. He said a friend who was visiting from China logged into his account, hired an outside agency to write the paper and turned it in without his knowledge. He attached a purported chat between his friend and the service and said his friend was willing to testify.

Yin noted in another email that he wasn’t challenging the misconduct allegations and apologized for “serious mistakes and errors in judgment.” He asked for a suspension that would allow him to eventually graduate.

On Jan. 8, Romano rejected Carroll’s motion to reconsider her ruling, saying the board was asking for a “do-over” after failing to bring forward critical evidence. She said the case reminded her of the legal saying, “Better that ten guilty persons escape, than one innocent suffer.”

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