Student Adds Charges to UT Lawsuit

The student suing the University of Tampa over plagiarism charges added three counts to her suit after UT filed documents that included her name. The student now accuses UT and its legal counsel of invasion of privacy by unlawfully releasing her private records.

In return, University counsel has charged the student and the attorney with contempt of court. Initially, the student was suing UT and the professor who levied the plagiarism accusation for defamation, but in the amended suit, the student’s attorney Joe Bryant claims UT and its legal counsel “willfully and maliciously released” the student’s identity, which had been limited to her initials in Bryant’s filings. The student is now suing both UT and its counsel for releasing the documents.

“They wanted to go jihad, so we are going jihad,” Bryant said. “[These are] frivolous pleadings that attached all the students’ records,” Bryant said.

Included in UT’s July filing was an affidavit with the student’s name. A September addition included her name, rough draft, term paper and other school records, Bryant wrote in the suit.

Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), student records are to be withheld unless released by the student, ordered by a court or covered through other circumstances (See FERPA Sidebar).

“Yes, the university does follow FERPA guidelines” said Grant Donaldson, university spokesman. Donaldson declined further comment citing a record of not commenting on pending legal cases.

Bryant notified The Minaret Monday that records disclosing the student’s name were made public, and he told the newspaper how to obtain from the court the documents that included the student’s personal information. The Minaret obtained those records but has decided to continue its policy of naming neither the student nor the professor.

University attorney Joseph Campbell, who is also named in the amended suit, stated that he is not concerned over the allegations of a FERPA violation.

“I am concerned with a client of mine who is being sued unnecessarily and frivolously. It is a waste of my client’s money and that is how I feel about this case,” Campbell said.

Campbell claims that the student’s identity on campus is well-known because Bryant and the student obtained affidavits from student witnesses.

In the amended suit, counts I and II still accuse the professor and UT respectively with defamation. Counts IV and V accuse UT and its counsel respectively of invasion of privacy. Count III seeks injunctive relief to keep the F grade from being included in the GPA and school records of the student, who is applying to law school. Count VI seeks “injunctive relief to redact and prohibit past and future disclosure” of the student’s records. The student also seeks costs and attorney fees.

“From a procedural sense, it is a little awkward and a little impossible to amend a complaint [again] when you cannot get a first amended complaint” said Campbell. “It’s like buying a fourth car without owning a first car yet.”

In addition to Campbell, the student is also suing Michael D. Malfitano and Constangy, Brooks ‘ Smith, LLC, for punitive damages for the invasion of privacy. She does not name the professor in the privacy portion of the suit.

“I’ve done constitutional law. I’m a board-certified attorney, so from 20 years experience, I can tell you, on first impression, this case has constitutional ramifications,” Bryant said. He also said the case had national implications, and he hopes that new legislation will be written.

“I have always said that someone can file a suit for anything. All you have to do is pay a filing fee. It doesn’t make it meritorious,” said Campbell.

Three weeks ago, a motion to hold Bryant in contempt and to sanction the student was filed after the student and Bryant, according to Campbell, chose not to appear before a September meeting regarding subpoenaed depositions.

“Ignoring a subpoena is not a good idea. I pointed out the governing case law that required that they attend. They simply chose not to attend,” Campbell said.

Court documents filed by UT in July revealed details about the student’s Academic Integrity Hearing. The seven-member board ruled unanimously against her, ruling that her term paper “did not include proper citations and was therefore an incident of plagiarism.”

Academic Integrity Hearing Results

Decision: Responsible Vote: 7/0 The board agreed that the issue in this case was the definition of “proper citation” as it is stated in Article 2 – Academic Integrity, under Plagiarism.

1. Teaching Proper Citations The board said the student had “the responsibility to know how to properly cite another’s work when used in an academic project” but that the professor presented proper citation methods through a PowerPoint presentation and a referral to the academic integrity portion of his syllabus. The professor’s comment on a required first draft, “Specific #s require page citations,” was found to be sufficient feedback. The board also found that the professor’s circling of “specific numbers used in the paper on the next page were interpreted as additional identification of this specific problem.” The student did not submit a second draft, which the professor offered to read for students, and the student never took advantage of opportunities to ask the professor citation-related questions, the board found.

2. Did the student plagiarize? The student was found to have failed to “to provide parenthetical or end note citations,” but provided “information in the first paragraph . . . without mentioning an author. It is not until the second paragraph that there is any credit given to a specific author or document. The board believed that this is also an improper use of another’s work without giving proper credit to the author.” The board ultimately ruled that “although the student may not have purposely plagiarized this paper, the student’s lack of proper citations ultimately results in plagiarism.” Bryant, the student’s attorney, continues to maintain she is innocent of plagiarism because all of her sources were cited at the end of the paper, but he concedes that not all of the necessary parenthetical citations were included.

3. Did the professor turn in the student due to personal dislike? The student blamed a feud with the professor for his charging her with plagiarism. While the board noted “a strong difference of opinion or dislike between the student and the professor,” it ruled that “any personal issue between the professor and the student was irrelevant to the charge of plagiarism.” The board found that there was “a possibility” that the professor filed the plagiarism charges because of this dislike but noted that regardless of the circumstances, plagiarism was still found in the paper. “Ultimately the board felt that under the charge of academic integrity, they needed to focus on the submitted work and any interchanges of information between the student and faculty member that specifically addressed the issue of using proper citations and avoiding plagiarism.”

Original Essay by Student:

“The courts recognize that the military possesses unique equipment and trained personnel; therefore they concluded that ‘passive’ support does not violate the act. Passive support includes providing supplies, equipment, training, facilities, and certain types of intelligent information. They can also be involved in planning out a law enforcement operation as long as they don’t assist with the actual arrest or seizure of evidence.”

Internet source: “Recognizing that the military possesses unique equipment and uniquely trained personnel, the courts have held that providing supplies, equipment, training, facilities, and certain types of intelligence information does not violate the act. Military personnel may also be involved in planning law enforcement operations, as long as the actual arrest of suspects and seizure of evidence is carried out by civil
ian law enforcement personnel.”


Family Education Rights and Privacy Act

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