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Two file suit to restore academic reputations

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A former and a current West Virginia University employee have filed a federal lawsuit saying the university's board of governors and others failed to restore their reputations following an academic integrity investigation that didn't find misconduct. 

Cyril Logar and R. Stephen Sears filed the action May 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia against the West Virginia University Board of Governors, including members from 2010 through now; Nigel Clark, special academic integrity officer of WVU; Marjorie A. McDiarmid, professor of law and technology and academic integrity officer for WVU; E. Jane Martin, former provost of WVU; James P. Clements, president of WVU; and Michelle Wheatly, provost of WVU.

Logar says he lost his position as an associate dean of the business school and asserts he is now "an outcast in the WVU community."

Meanwhile, Sears says he lost his position at the College of Business and Economics, was denied a merit raise and is having trouble finding another job because of the allegations against him.

"The inquiry dragged on for years, far exceeding the 210-day period provided in plaintiffs' employment contracts with the university and the (academic integrity) policy," the suit states. 

"The investigation — and the negative publicity resulting from WVU's multiple media leaks — destroyed plaintiffs' professional reputations, but concluded with a finding that they had done nothing wrong."

The academic integrity policy, Logar and Sears say in their suit, provides procedure for inquiries into allegations of academic misconduct.

The suit stems from an October 2007 incident when a media outlet contacted WVU about whether then- Gov. Joe Manchin's daughter, Heather Bresch, had earned a master's degree. 

At that time, Sears was the dean of the College of Business and Economics and Logar served as the associate dean of this school.

The suit says four days after this media inquiry, the president's chief of staff called a meeting to review whether she had earned her master's degree.

Sears sent out a letter later that month telling media that she had satisfied the requirements to earn that degree.

The next year, McDiarmid sent letters to Logar, Sears and other people, informing them they were charged with academic misconduct.

Sears and Logar say the hearing panel as established in the academic integrity policy was set to convene beyond the 210-day limit for completion of the investigation.

"And the hearing panel never convened, even on its delayed schedule. The university never presented a case of academic misconduct to a hearing panel. No finding of misconduct was made," the suit asserts.

The suit additionally asserts the university leaked stories to the media that cast Sears and Logar in an unfavorable light.  

"Those leaks — not to mention the years-long duration of the university's investigation — caused serious harm to plaintiffs' reputations," the suit alleges.

Clark, another defendant named in the lawsuit, later found in August 2012 that there were unreasonable delays in the investigations of Sears and Logar, raising due process implications, the suit continues. Clark also said no further academic misconduct action would be taken into the Bresch degree matter.

Sears and Logar said academic integrity proceedings against them were terminated and no academic misconduct was found.

Both want the university to restore their reputations, the suit continues.

According to a past State Journal story, Sears and Logar filed a lawsuit in December 2010, alleging the board of governors violated its own policy and procedures related to academic misconduct proceedings by failing to ensure an impartial investigation.

This suit also stemmed from the Bresch degree matter.

They also said the board of governors denied procedural due process rights because they say there were conflicts of interest in the investigation.

This suit was dismissed, however, because it was filed too late.