A bit of #pruittdata news: Jonathan Pruitt’s doctoral dissertation has been withdrawn from Tennessee’s institutional repository; he still holds his PhD (post title updated x2, post updated x3)

Nick DiRienzo has the news:

Nick’s screenshot is of this page of the University of Tennessee doctoral dissertation repository, known as TRACE. Note that you can’t find that page by searching the repository. A repository search on Pruitt’s name doesn’t find his dissertation, though it does find numerous others from the same lab. I found it by following the link from the EBSCO listing for Pruitt’s dissertation.

It’s not clear when the dissertation was withdrawn from the repository. The linked page doesn’t say, and I got no joy when I tried to figure out when the page was last modified.

I’m also not clear on the implications of this. I kind of doubt it means that Tennessee has officially rescinded Pruitt’s PhD, though I’m just guessing on that. On the other hand, it’s certainly not a vote of confidence from Tennessee in the integrity and validity of Pruitt’s dissertation research, is it? It sure would be nice to have some transparency from Tennessee on exactly what action they’ve taken and why, and whether there are any further actions pending.

UPDATE: Here’s the Tennessee repository’s official policies. The policy on withdrawal of materials says:

TRACE is meant to be a permanent scholarly record (working papers may be an exception). Once an item is deposited, a citation to it will always remain. Removing content is discouraged. However, authors may request the community manager to remove an item, except for peer-review series and journals, where removal is not allowed. No files will be removed by the TRACE administrator or community managers without author notification. If a contributor leaves the University, the material will remain in TRACE; upon request, new contact information will be added to the files.

So I guess it’s possible that the dissertation was removed from the depository at Pruitt’s request? Or that it was removed at the request of someone else and that Pruitt was notified?

/end update

UPDATE #2: Retraction Watch has a story on this. No new info, except for one small tidbit of questionable relevance: Pruitt’s Twitter bio now says he’s based in rural Florida, even though his department webpage at McMaster University is still live and he’s still listed in the department faculty listing. Not sure what to make of this, but it probably doesn’t mean anything. He’s listed as the instructor for Comparative Social Evolution during the F 2021 term, and the course is being taught virtually rather than in person, so it might just mean that he’s teaching remotely? (go here, open a search, search on subject “PSYCH” and the exact course number 3SE3) Or maybe he’s not even in rural Florida, who knows. I don’t really see how it’s relevant in any case. /end update #2

UPDATE #3: CBC News reports that, according to a UTennessee spokesperson, Pruitt still holds his PhD. /end update #3

p.s. In the unlikely event that you’re just joining us and have no idea what I’m talking about, start here and say goodbye to your day!

9 thoughts on “A bit of #pruittdata news: Jonathan Pruitt’s doctoral dissertation has been withdrawn from Tennessee’s institutional repository; he still holds his PhD (post title updated x2, post updated x3)

  1. Just FYI, my understanding from news reports is that Tennessee did conduct an internal investigation of Pruitt’s work at some point. Whether that investigation has now concluded, and if so what the outcomes were, I don’t know. No information has been released publicly, as far as I know.

  2. Yes, I have no idea if this means they actually rescinded his PhD or not. Or even if they withdrew it due to data issues (although that seems likely). The change in the wikipedia page was made over a month ago, so if UT did wrap up their investigation they did so quietly. Hoping they release a statement or report about it all.

  3. A casually-googled, brief review of the broader US legal context.

    Click to access a_matter_of_degree.pdf

    According to the review, in the US, the authority that grants a degree (usually the institution’s Board of Governors) has the authority to rescind the degree for good cause. Good cause includes academic misconduct or fraud. Universities can revoke degrees using their own internal procedures, rather than having to obtain a court order. If the degree is from a public institution, the institution’s procedures for degree revocation have to provide the degree recipient with due process under the 14th Amendment.

    Interestingly, the University of Tennessee is one of the relatively few US institutions that has revoked a graduate degree. It revoked a PhD in 1990. The degree was revoked because the dissertation included material copied from reports co-authored by the student’s PhD advisor. The student sued to keep the degree; the linked report doesn’t state the outcome of the suit.

  4. It’s good to have you back Jeremy, even if only for a short post 🙂

    One idle thought: do institutions ever rescind qualifications for “bringing an institution into disrepute”? I know it’s been done for honorary degrees awarded to notables who then turn out to be notable for the wrong reasons (Donald Trump being a case in point). But has it ever been done for qualifications awarded to academics who are discovered to have committed fraud whilst at other universities, even if the degree itself was not fraudulently obtained?

    I imagine that it’s a legal mine field and it’s perhaps a little early for Tennessee to have done this in the Pruitt case.

    • That old review of degree revocations I linked to in an earlier comment mentions a relevant case. MIT revoked a graduate degree (really, suspended the degree for 5 years) for *non-academic* misconduct committed while the student was at MIT. So, not exactly the sort of case you have in mind. But similar, in that it involved revoking a degree for misconduct that had nothing to do with the thesis research. But even there, the misconduct was committed at MIT while the student was pursuing the graduate degree in question, and was a violation of MIT’s code of student conduct. MIT didn’t revoke the degree for, say, a crime the student committed off-campus against a victim unconnected to MIT.

      The only other such case I can think of wasn’t from the US. A German uni revoked Jan Hedrik Schon’s PhD for serial scientific fraud, even though Schon’s frauds were all post-PhD. See this old post and the comments for some discussion: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2020/08/10/what-happens-to-serial-scientific-fraudsters-after-theyre-discovered/

      My own view is that earned degrees should not be revoked for bad behavior unconnected to the degree.* I’m sure there are lots of people who’ve committed horrible crimes after earning university degrees, who’ve kept their degrees, and I think that’s right and proper. After all, why should it dishonor the university that somebody did something bad after attending the university? (Heck, why should the university’s “honor” even be a consideration in the granting of earned degrees?) And what purpose–deterrence of bad behavior, restitution to victims, etc.–would be served by rescinding degrees for bad things students after attending the university? (Ok, I did once argue that the Schon case was an exception, for reasons discussed in the comment thread linked to above. But I find myself going back and forth on that argument now.)

      *Well, except in cases like the MIT case, where the bad behavior violated the student code of conduct, and so was “connected to the degree” in that sense.

  5. The record for his dissertation seems to be online yet, including the statement “This paper has been withdrawn.” (https://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_graddiss/842/)

    These inscrutable official announcements are hard to penetrate, but saying it was “withdrawn” from what’s intended to be a stand repository seems more dire than say a pdf of a copyrighted article being removed. When publishers say “withdrawn” it’s usually the same as retracted, excepting publishers’ error.

    • “The record for his dissertation seems to be online yet, including the statement “This paper has been withdrawn.”

      Yes, that’s the same link I found, it’s in the post.

      As you say, “withdrawn” just seems to mean “not on the institutional repository any more”. Doesn’t indicate why not.

  6. Pingback: BIG #pruittdata news: McMaster U investigation concluded. Jonathan Pruitt placed on paid administrative leave “until the process is complete”. Pruitt has no access to students or research funds while on leave. | Dynamic Ecology

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