WAU Votes to Clear Presidential Plagiarism Charges, Purchase New Property

On Wednesday, May 8, 2019, the Washington Adventist University Board of Trustees issued two statements: one regarding their intent to purchase property owned by Washington Adventist Hospital, and the second regarding their investigation into the plagiarism accusation against President Weymouth Spence.

The first announcement states that the university “will offer to purchase the 14.5 acre property currently home to Adventist HealthCare’s Washington Adventist Hospital, which will relocate to Silver Spring in August.” The property is adjacent to the university and would double the size of the current campus, and “support its ongoing development into a rich learning environment that not only prepares students for success in today’s market but also serves as a resource to the community.”

This news comes on the heels of the announcement in March that the university would be placing 15 degree programs “on hold” and eliminating at least three employee positions, despite an otherwise positive budget report. While the justification for these decisions has never been stated to be a financial one, it does raise the question.

In response to this question, Richard Castillo, WAU vice president for integrated marketing and communication, replied with the following:

“Washington Adventist University along with the Columbia Union agree that operational funds of the university will not be allocated to the purchase or development of the property. The intention for the property is to serve as a financial support to the university and a further resource to the surrounding community of Takoma Park, MD. As stated in our public statement dated March 6th, 2019, ‘Growth and success for any institution of higher education will result in the necessity for adjustments and progressive movement and may not be a metric applied to a need for stasis. As WAU moves to ensure 21st century relevancy for our current and future students, institutional adjustments will allow for the university to be agile and thrive rather than simply survive.’”

Regarding the accusations of plagiarism against President Spence, the trustees reviewed a report that was prepared by “a non-Adventist investigator [who] is an administrator with nearly 50 years of experience in higher education, who has an earned PhD, served as a college president, and now teaches other college presidents.”

The investigator concluded, “that there was no intentional offense identified, nor did the investigator deem the errors egregious,” according to the statement issued by the Board.

As a result of this conclusion, the WAU Board Executive Committee recommended to the Board of Trustees that due to no evidence of nefarious intent, the Board should “advise the president to apply a higher degree of rigor in his use of sources.” The Executive Committee also “acknowledged Dr. Spence’s valuable contribution to the university over the last 10 years and expressed confidence and appreciation for his continued visionary leadership.”

The Board of Trustees “voted strongly in favor” of the Executive Committee’s recommendation.

A faculty briefing follows each board meeting, and one question raised during yesterday’s briefing concerned the identity of the investigator. In response, faculty were informed that the individual had requested to remain anonymous, and be referred to only by his/her credentials, much like the original whistleblower on the plagiarism accusations who used the pseudonym “Bethany Buckingham.”

While the investigation cleared Spence of intentional offense and egregious error, it fell short of saying that he did not plagiarize. Spence himself did not deny the allegations in his April 4 letter to WAU faculty and staff, but rather pointed to the fact that his doctorate was confirmed by Nova Southeastern University according to their integrity standards, and that the other documents mentioned in the Plagiarism Report were non-scholarly and therefore not meant for scholarly analysis.

When asked for clarity regarding the situation, Castillo stated that, “We stand by our statement published yesterday May 8, 2019. The WAU Board Executive Committee brought a recommendation based on the prescription of an expert in an investigation that is a personnel issue that requires a certain level of discretion.”

Similarly, when the Columbia Union Conference was asked for comment regarding the plagiarism decision, Celeste Ryan Blyden, CUC vice president for strategic communication and public relations, replied that “Since Dr. Weigley [president of CUC] chairs the board, that statement released does represent our position.”

The Washington Adventist University Statement Regarding Plagiarism Accusations:

The WAU statement regarding its offer to purchase the hospital campus can be found on the WAU website here.

Further Reading:

WAU to Place 15 Degree Programs “On Hold,” Reduce Faculty/Staff Positions, March 7, 2019

Presidential Plagiarism Accusations Surface at WAU, April 5, 2019

Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org

Image courtesy of WAU.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9608

The same old wearying story. The plagiarism wasn’t that bad, he didn’t mean any harm, and some of it wasn’t meant to be academic so it doesn’t necessarily count (much). And the “investigator” requested anonymity. Who wouldn’t want their name associated with such a quality situation?

Assuming the purchase price will buy the hospital as-is, it will be interesting to see the cost for converting it to usable space for student use and service to the community.


Students at WAU learn to avoid plagiarism in their first-year English classes, and it is reinforced across the disciplines for as long as they are students. Any of the examples in Spence’s documents would draw a warning from teachers, if not an F for the paper and maybe expulsion from the class. The president should at least come up to that standard if he cannot be bothered to fully attribute his many sources. Teachers at WAU should refer students who plagiarize to Spence’s examples, not to exonerate them but to teach them that ethics and honesty is an individual responsibility to oneself and to the academic community.


One need to look to the book of Revelation to find the use of other sources or to Ellen White.

It is difficult to see how the incumbent WAU president and
Board of Trustees can retain the respect of students and
faculty and, indeed, the wider academic community, in view
of the plagiarism decision reached.
The latter may turn out to be a contributing factor in putting
the future of the institution at risk.


Any attempt to prosecute plagiarism in the SDA community is destined to fail. If a Prophet can do it and stay unpunished, why can’t anyone else? :roll_eyes:


I sure understand this language… LOL
Don’t we all become amazed with the Beautiful Statements always presented in defense of plagiarism??? :wink:


The president should be released on the basis of his defense that the Awarding university had accepted his work without complaint.


German Prof. Bela Gipp identifies the issue clearly: “Academic plagiarism encompasses the use of ideas, concepts, words, or structures without appropriately acknowledging the source to benefit in a setting where originality is expected.”


Neither “errors egregious” nor “nefarious intent” were part of the initial complaint. The moral bar dropped with this circumvention. Sad.


Mel, that’s clear and comprehensive. Thanks. Avoiding plagiarism is something that we learn early and have to be constantly aware of in our own work. It’s best to stay as far away from it as possible.

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The allegations that Dr. Spence committed plagiarism are frivolous. But because frivolous allegations can inflame the community, the Board was forced to bend over backwards and accord the allegations a scintilla of seriousness that they do not deserve. He has been vindicated by the Board, but he is still owed an apology by his accusers.

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(Wow!) Ok…Is this the same as “chastised for voicing one’s concerns”?

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What is your convincing evidence to state such a defense?


I think the best policy is to accept the conclusion of the expert and move on. To make more of this would be harmful to the school. Reminds me of the democrats trying to make more out of the Mueller report to the detriment of the country.

These are a series of institutional traditions that structure “bogus morality” that has very little to do with the real world and more to do with internal academic hierarchies and egos that structure these. The moment you challenge their viability, they get hurt and cry “foul” as though there’s some special writing in the stone about making sure that someone attached your precious name to some idea that may have been repeated before by someone else in some other variation.

Hopefully, there will be a time when knowledge and understanding will be about content rather that authoritarian persona cult that such content is shackled to.

No. There’s nothing immoral about forgoing giving someone credit for some “special sequence of words” they arranged prior. All of us are modded copies of the copies of the copies of the original. And so goes about most of the things we think, write and do.

In the academia, the propagation of knowledge and ideas should be more important than personality cults.

That utopia is not here yet, if ever. What is in place is not a cult, it’s a simple recognition and respect for the labor of knowledge and creativity that others have done. Attribution is saying thanks for passing your work along to us. Some may build their own self-worth around how many times their work is cited, but that doesn’t take away from the ethics of recognizing another’s effort.

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What does that have to do with Utopia? You think it’s Utopic to focus on concepts rather than personalities that we attribute these to? How absurd.

Let’s not be naive here. The best respect one can give a student is to recognize validity of certain idea. It’s the ideas that are valid, and we share these ideas in context of the cultural consensus. Yet it’s individual greed ends up setting up these ego-serving ideals in which, for example, individuals get credit for work of hundreds… Perhaps even thousands. You know … Steve Jobs invented iPhone type of absurdity.

Attributing these ideas to individuals is an insult to all of the predescesors that contributed to channeling and solidifying that idea in some form or another. Yet, we structure these absurd attributions to a persona for a rather broad and collective achievements of humanity… simply because they happened to write it down and sign their name under.

Again, let’s not be naive here. I get the self-serving academic preference to insentivise methodology for achiving the status of celebrity. But let’s not confuse that with morality. Trespassing against pleagarism rules is not more immoral than a travel in a basketball game. It’s an arbitrary preference that’s only viable in confines of the basketball court.

Outside of it… No one cares how much running g you do with a ball or your claims that you have invented a jump shot. The real world without these rather arbitrary intellectual constraints is much more pragmatic than that.

Again, I’m not sure I should care about your preferences as to which spoon to use for dessert and which fork to use for the salad unless you can viably justify these to be some transcendent moral principles that propagate knowledge and understanding instead of it being appropriated and sold for profit.

You can pretend that it matters all day long as you grade student papers, but it’s a rather naive version of reality that only works because certain people are given the red pen.

A copycat President isn’t much of a model leader.