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University of New Brunswick starts formal investigation into Trump ally’s PhD

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The University of New Brunswick has appointed three professors from other institutions to conduct a formal investigation into allegations of academic fraud against a former PhD student who is also a high-profile ally of former United States president Donald Trump.

The academic credentials of Doug Mastriano, a retired U.S. army colonel and Republican politician, were called into question last fall when several scholars alleged that his 2013 doctoral dissertation was plagued by factual errors, fabrications, omissions and amateurish archeology.

At the time, the Pennsylvania state senator was widely known for his active role in the movement to overturn Trump’s 2020 election defeat. With Trump’s support, he won the Republican nomination to run for state governor, but he lost that race on Nov. 9, 2022.

Mastriano dismissed the allegations last fall, saying “left-leaning professors” at UNB were unable to deal with his political views and military background.

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In response to the initial allegations, university officials conducted a preliminary assessment of a formal complaint, and reviewed the schools’ policies for awarding doctoral degrees. The results of those efforts were not made public.

The formal complaint was submitted on Oct. 6, 2022, by James Gregory, an instructor and PhD candidate at the University of Oklahoma, who documented 213 allegations of academic misconduct in Mastriano’s dissertation about U.S. army Sgt. Alvin York, a highly decorated First World War infantryman.

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On March 3 of this year, Gregory received a letter from UNB’s vice-president of research, David MaGee, who said he had determined the allegations had “sufficient substance” to warrant a formal investigation under the school’s Responsible Conduct in Research policy.

The three-member investigation committee must submit its findings and recommendations to MaGee within 60 days of its formation. But the university’s policy says their confidential report will not be released to the public.

Gregory said he asked MaGee about what would happen with the investigation report.

“He was very quiet when I asked how long it would take and if I would be told the results,” Gregory said in an interview Tuesday. “The answers were very vague.”

MaGee did not respond to a request for an interview. Other members of the university’s administration declined to be interviewed, citing privacy concerns.

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If the committee determines Mastriano committed scholarly misconduct, it can recommend disciplinary actions, but the policy does not provide details of what that means.

As for MaGee, he has several options: accept the findings in whole, or in part; forward the report to the appropriate senior administrators for possible disciplinary actions; determine a non-disciplinary remedy; and/or notify any relevant third parties, including funding agencies and publishers.

Jeffrey Brown, a longtime history professor at UNB, was among the first to raise red flags about Mastriano’s dissertation in 2012. As a member of the examining board that reviewed Mastriano’s work, Brown said his suggestions for revisions were not taken seriously.

He said the main problem with the 500-page paper was that it relied too heavily on a 1928 autobiography that has been called into question by other historians for being a simplistic portrait of York’s life. Brown also cited shortcomings with an archeological dig Mastriano led in France. The professor said two qualified experts came forward in 2008 to dispute Mastriano’s findings.

In 2014, Mastriano wrote a book based on the dissertation.

Gregory, author of “Unravelling the Myth of Sgt. Alvin York,” said he became concerned about Mastriano’s work after he cited a passage from Mastriano’s 2014 book in an article. Gregory said he received messages indicating the material was questionable and decided to have a closer look at the book and the dissertation.

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“His dissertation and subsequent book are built upon falsified research,” Gregory alleges in his Oct. 6 complaint to UNB.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2023.

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