A few weeks ago, a concerned member of the public reached out to the National Association of Scholars asking it to investigate a serious breach of academic honesty. Katy, Texas, home to the on-going controversy, was defrauded by its Superintendent of Schools Lance Hindt, who it appears, plagiarized his dissertation. In response, Mr. Hindt has tendered his resignation effective January 1, 2019. The Katy Independent School District Board of Trustees voted to accept this resignation and offer Mr. Hindt over $750,000 in severance pay.
NAS President Peter Wood wrote to the University of Houston President Renu Khator asking for her to begin an investigation into the charge of plagiarism. The letter was delivered privately with the understanding that a non-response would entail a necessity to make the letter public. It is our hope that by making this letter public, it may pressure the University of Houston and its President Renu Khator, into taking this case seriously.
Below is the full text of that letter, including a short analysis of Mr. Hindt's dissertation.
July 27, 2018
Dr. Renu Khator
University of Houston
4800 Calhoun Road
Houston, Texas 77204
Dear President Khator,
I am writing in reference to the case of Lance Hindt, the superintendent of schools for the Katy Independent School District. He has recently announced his resignation effective January 1, 2019 in the face of several allegations, including the claim that he plagiarized his 2012 dissertation at the University of Houston for the degree of Doctor of Education in Professional Leadership.
The other allegations against Dr. Hindt are of no relevance here, but the allegation of plagiarism in his doctoral dissertation is a serious matter. A side by side comparison of his dissertation with the dissertation of Dr. Keith A. Rowland, written in 2008, for his doctoral degree at Liberty University reveals startling similarities, beginning with the titles:
Rowland. 2008. The Relationship of Principal Leadership and Teacher Morale.
Hindt. 2012. The Effects of Principal Leadership on Teacher Morale and Student Achievement.
Both dissertations examine middle schools via survey instruments that are much alike. Rowland and Hindt reach substantially the same conclusions. Hindt’s analysis and the sequence of his presentation closely match Rowland’s. And in many places, Hindt’s language is clearly adapted with slight modification from Rowland’s words:
Rowland. 2008. “Leadership is often difficult to define and evaluate. Leaders have a multitude of roles they fill and many duties they perform each day. There are many traits and behaviors that may create effective leaders.”
Hindt. 2012. “Leadership is a quality that is difficult to define much less evaluate. Leaders in all walks of life possess a wide array of leadership traits or skills; thus, there are many behaviors and traits that exemplify and define an effective leader.”
The insertion of a few superfluous words or the slight rearrangement of syntax only underscores how closely Dr. Hindt’s language and thought in this passage imitates Dr. Rowland’s. The third sentence inverts the order of “traits and behaviors” and replaces “create” with “exemplify and define.”
Rowland. 2008. “The study is significant to the field of education in that it builds upon the available body of knowledge relating teacher morale and principal leadership.”
Hindt. 2012. “First of all, the present study is significant to the field of education in general because it builds upon the available body of knowledge related to teacher morale and principal leadership.”
Hindt’s technique is to stuff superfluous words into Rowland’s core sentence. “First of all,” “present,” and “in general” do not alter the structure or the meaning of Rowland’s sentence. They simply camouflage the theft. These are but two small examples of a pattern that is rife throughout Hindt’s dissertation.
Those who work on plagiarism cases are familiar with a telltale in which the plagiarist includes a minor citation to the work he is stealing from, often in the beginning pages of his own work. Hindt provides exactly that on page two of his dissertation:
However, one of the most critical and underlying factors of improving the effectiveness of a school or school system is teacher motivation and morale (Rowland, 2008).
That is the only instance of Hindt mentioning Rowland. Oddly, Rowland’s work is even missing from the dissertation’s bibliography, although other sources cited as briefly in the text as Hindt’s reference to Rowland are fully represented in the bibliography.
This seems unlikely to have been a careless oversight. One has good grounds to suspect that Hindt, having assiduously mined Rowland’s text for ideas, arguments, sentences, and paragraphs, deliberately decided to omit the kind of bibliographic data that would have made it possible for his examining committee to check the source.
In other words, the strong similarities between the dissertations cannot be attributed to Hindt not knowing that what he was doing was wrong. He took steps to cover it up.
These are matters that are open to anyone who takes the trouble to compare the two documents. But there is a concern beyond that of the likelihood of plagiarism. One cannot tell merely by comparing the texts whether Hindt actually performed the research on which the dissertation is supposedly based. There are grounds for suspicion. The supposed dates of the research precede by several years the period for which Hindt received authorization to conduct his surveys. That alone would suggest a serious ethical lapse. Hindt claims to have conducted his research in 2009. The permission he received from the Fort Bend School District covered the period Nov. 1, 2011 to May 31, 2012. See Hindt’s appendices C and E. There is additional murkiness evident in appendix D, which covers various stipulations from the University of Houston Division of Research dated March 13, 2012, which would have been impossible to apply retroactively to research conducted in 2009.
Superficially, Dr. Hindt’s dissertation, at 270 pages, is almost three times the length of Dr. Rowland’s. The body of Dr. Hindt’s dissertation, however, is only 86 pages, the rest consisting of a bibliography and appendices that are made up mostly of graphs and illustrations. The body of Rowland’s dissertation runs 69 pages.
Hindt’s dissertation also supposedly rests on a different body of survey research. That, however, needs to be investigated.
Hindt did not commit the sort of wholesale plagiarism—copying verbatim an entire text— that we sometimes see in plagiarism cases. His plagiarism is extensive but Hindt appears to have proceeded systematically by adding words and phrases and occasionally varying word order. But given the brevity of both dissertations, which are little more than long-term papers, there is no great obstacle to comparing the two.
Hindt’s dissertation does include sentences and paragraphs that appear not to have precedent in Rowland’s text. Under the circumstances, an investigation might be warranted into Hindt’s use of sources in addition to Rowland’s dissertation.
I understand that the University of Houston has been called on by at least one other person to investigate the allegations that Hindt plagiarized parts of his dissertation. So far that request has resulted only in a rebuff from the dean of the School of Education that these are matters protected by privacy concerns.
Plagiarism, however, is not something that happens in private. It is a public act with public consequences, similar in character to counterfeiting. Dr. Hindt was promoted into a position of important public responsibility partly on the basis of the University of Houston’s decision to grant him a doctorate in education based on his dissertation.
Though I see compelling evidence of plagiarism and suggestive evidence of other forms of academic dishonesty in this case, I believe that the University of Houston ought to have the opportunity to straighten this matter out. If Dr. Hindt is indeed guilty of plagiarism at the order of magnitude I’ve pointed to, the University of Houston ought to revoke his degree. This is a matter of the integrity of the university as much as it is an obligation to the public.
There may be deeper problems here in the School of Education whose faculty members might reasonably have been expected to notice problems in Dr. Hindt’s dissertation. Evidence of apparent academic malfeasance either went unnoticed or was tacitly condoned. Be that as it may, the University has now been alerted to the facts and it should take action. At a minimum that action should include a formal review of Hindt’s dissertation and a careful comparison of it to Rowland’s dissertation.
I write as someone who has no connection to the Katy Independent School District or the University of Houston. I do not know and have never met Dr. Hindt. Rather, I write as president of the National Association of Scholars, an independent organization of faculty members, academic administrators, and others committed to upholding the standards of integrity in American higher education. We are a non-governmental body and exercise no authority over accreditation or other quasi-legal matters. Our sole interest is holding colleges and universities to appropriately high standards in education, a formation of character, and service to society.
As a former provost and as someone who worked in high levels of university administration for more than 25 years, I understand the awkwardness of this situation. Dr. Hindt conducted his research and wrote and defended his dissertation during your tenure as president. The University of Houston is a large and complex institution where no doubt untoward things occur that come to your attention only long after the fact. Finding the right way to address such matters can be a challenge. But I do not believe this is one of those cases. The right way forward is evident.
Attempting to brush the matter aside would be a poor choice. Dr. Hindt has a right to speak on his own behalf, but given the now irrefutable evidence against him, one would hope he would speak with contrition rather than blame-shifting.
I am writing this letter for now as a private communication and as an appeal to your better judgment. But having been at this work for a number of years, I know that sometimes letters like this go unanswered unless they are accompanied by the assurance that in due course I will make this letter and your answer, if any, public. Public accountability is, after all, the currency of higher education. In granting a doctoral degree to Dr. Hindt, the University of Houston gave this man public credibility as an educated expert in his field. On that basis he was appointed to positions of public trust, for which the university bears a degree of moral responsibility. You will, I am confident, do the right thing.
Photo: By Another Believer - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18071067