Clayton State provost’s ouster reflects more scrutiny of resumes, research

Educators expect current atmosphere will add pressure to universities’ vetting process
Kimberly McLeod was hired as Clayton State University's provost and vice president for academic affairs on July 1. She was removed in late December. (Courtesy of Clayton State University)

Credit: Clayton State University

Credit: Clayton State University

Kimberly McLeod was hired as Clayton State University's provost and vice president for academic affairs on July 1. She was removed in late December. (Courtesy of Clayton State University)

A Georgia university has joined schools in other parts of the nation navigating the fallout of an academic misrepresentation probe after its provost was ousted for inaccuracies on her curriculum vitae.

Kimberly McLeod was hired by Clayton State University to start in July to oversee academic programs for the nearly 6,000-student university. She was removed in late December, after anonymous complaints, one lodged by “a concerned faculty member,” questioned the publications she listed on her application materials.

A University System of Georgia review focused on six article citations in which McLeod listed herself as a co-author, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request. Those citations included research about creating student success pathways for first-generation and Hispanic college students and an article on fraternity involvement of Black men who attend predominantly white schools.

The review found that each of the six citations “were inaccurate and, in some instances, referenced journal articles that were never published.” The report states: “After reviewing all information gathered as part of this review, it is a finding that Dr. McLeod either intentionally misrepresented the publications listed in her CV or was willfully indifferent to the accuracy of the publications she cited.”

McLeod’s starting salary at Clayton State was $195,000, and she also was made a full professor in the psychology department.

McLeod’s attorneys, Lee Parks and Travis Foust, acknowledged “some citation errors” in her CV but called the University System’s review a “sham investigation.”

They said issues with three of the flagged citations were the result of “errors made by the publisher” that have since been corrected. (According to the University System review, McLeod included her name on the articles on her CV while the publications did not. The review states that McLeod said her name wasn’t listed by the publication in two instances because, while she contributed to the work, she wanted her co-authors to receive credit as they were still trying to obtain tenure.)

The attorneys said in other instances, McLeod “inadvertently” cited a journal that the article was originally submitted to and it ended up being published elsewhere, or that she “failed to list” the article as pending publication. The University System review notes that “to omit such disclosures misrepresents the academic qualifications of the CV.”

“These citation errors were used to destroy the career of a distinguished professor whose life work is focused on furthering the education of women and minorities,” the attorneys said in a statement to the AJC.

Clayton State President Georj Lewis declined an interview request through a spokeswoman. The University System also declined to comment on personnel matters.

Clayton State University in Morrow enrolls nearly 6,000 students.  (Courtesy of Clayton State University)

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Attorneys for McLeod said the anonymous complaints that sparked the investigation “were part of a succession of accusations” that she faced “almost immediately” upon her arrival at Clayton State. Ethics complaints filed anonymously last fall and reviewed by the AJC criticized McLeod’s “top-down” decision-making style and questioned the search process used to fill two positions on her team.

“When the initial complaints about Dr. McLeod’s hiring decisions proved unsuccessful, the anonymous accusers fell back on an approach ripped from recent headlines and attacked the article publications on Dr. McLeod’s CV,” her attorneys said. “Unlike those recent headlines, however, there has never been any question of plagiarism with respect to Dr. McLeod.”

McLeod “has retained legal counsel and intends to use all means available to clear her name,” her attorneys said.

College leaders and professors across the nation watched closely as plagiarism allegations contributed to last month’s resignation of Claudine Gay, Harvard University’s first Black president. Gay described the campaign against her as part of “a broader war” to undermine higher education, and the situation spurred warnings of a coming “plagiarism war,” in which critics would comb through scholarship to uncover dishonesty and discredit political foes.

Some expect intensifying scrutiny on resumes and research will force universities to do more to vet candidates before they’re hired, especially for high-profile campus positions. To fill the provost position, Clayton State hired a search firm and formed a committee to review applications. A Clayton State spokeswoman declined to answer questions about that search or any changes it might make for future openings.

Matthew Boedy, president of the Georgia Conference of the American Association of University Professors, said there’s no “quick and easy way” to do those checks. Schools may turn to artificial intelligence programs to try to detect issues, despite the flaws with that technology.

Boedy said he’s not familiar with the merits of McLeod’s case. But, in general, he’s concerned with how critics have used CVs and academic works “as weapons” to attack individual administrators and erode trust in higher education.

“It’s a terrible, terrible trend that’s developing,” he said. “Harvard and Clayton State are certainly not the only ones and won’t be.”

Jonathan Bailey, a New Orleans-based consultant who runs the website Plagiarism Today, hasn’t reviewed the Clayton State case but said citations listed on a CV are “a place where you’re really supposed to get that right.” Situations such as this one make the school look “foolish” and can impact its reputation.

Universities should be working to improve their hiring processes and perform regular publication checks on an ongoing basis, “but that’s a tough sell because of cost,” he said.

Meanwhile, some academics, especially those in the public eye or who work in politically sensitive areas, are becoming more proactive. They’re checking their work for any issues that might require a correction before they can get called out publicly, he said.

Getting published in academic journals has long been a career necessity for many trying to rise up through the university ranks. McLeod’s more than 20-page CV submitted to Clayton State included several dozen publications, books and peer-reviewed articles that span nearly two decades.

Among the degrees listed on her resume is an educational doctorate in counselor education from Texas Southern University. Prior to coming to Clayton State, McLeod worked as the associate vice president of economic and academic development at Texas A&M University-Commerce. She is the president-elect of the National Alliance of Black School Educators, according to its website.

McLeod’s termination leaves Clayton State with an interim provost and a promise to conduct a national search for someone to fill the role permanently. In its report, the University System recommended that such searches “include a review of credentials and publications.”