University makes new review of Mastriano’s doctoral research

Nov 2, 2022, 7:29 AM | Updated: 9:57 am
FILE - Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano speaks during a campaign stop...

FILE - Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano speaks during a campaign stop in Erie, Pa., Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. A Canadian university that granted a doctorate in history to Mastriano is investigating a fresh complaint about his work that makes hundreds of allegations of academic fraud. (AP Photo/David Dermer, File)

(AP Photo/David Dermer, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A Canadian university that granted a doctorate in history to Doug Mastriano nearly a decade before he became the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania is investigating a fresh complaint about his work that makes multiple allegations of academic fraud in his recently public dissertation.

University of New Brunswick President Paul Mazerolle told The Associated Press in a phone interview Saturday that the school is also bringing in a team of outsiders to review its policies and procedures for graduate study, including issues raised by how Mastriano’s research was handled and evaluated.

“Being subject to a complaint, I need to let that process run its course,” Mazerolle said, “recognizing that there’s a time issue, and this is almost 10 years ago this was all propagated. And that’s why we need to have this looked at through our complaint processes.”

He said the school’s lead integrity officer, chemistry professor David MaGee, is performing an initial review to decide if a full investigation is warranted and who should conduct it. There is no time limit.

Mastriano, who was elected to the Pennsylvania Senate in 2019 after decades as a U.S. Army officer, was awarded a doctorate in history in 2013 for his research into American World War I hero Sgt. Alvin York. But that research, which formed the basis of his 2014 book, has long been criticized by other researchers as inaccurate, sloppy and even fraudulent.

Mastriano has not directly responded to numerous requests for comment about his research from The Associated Press, going back almost two years, including on Tuesday. He is currently running against Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro in the Nov. 8 election for governor.

But on Monday, he discussed his graduate research during an online interview, saying “the left wing goes after our academic work on the right.”

“I mean of all the things I’ve done, it was brutal,” he told Real America’s Voice, speaking of his doctoral studies. “And I did have concerns that some of the left-leaning professors there would hold my politics or my military background against me.”

One of the rival researchers who has challenged his work, University of Oklahoma history doctoral student James Gregory, sent the new complaint to New Brunswick administrators on Oct. 6, about a month after the school quietly made public Mastriano’s doctoral dissertation. Dissertation embargoes like the one that prevented access to Mastriano’s work for nearly a decade are among the topics being examined by the outside team Mazerolle is having look into graduate research policies and practices.

“His dissertation and subsequent book are built upon falsified research,” Gregory wrote in a cover letter to a list of what he described as 213 cases of academic misconduct in Mastriano’s doctoral thesis. “This has polluted the historiography of Alvin York causing every historian who used his work to have an inaccurate base on which their claims are built.”

In the letter addressed “to whom it should concern,” Gregory recounted how a complaint he made last year, based on problems he identified with the book, was handled. He said MaGee told him the allegations did not warrant a formal investigation and amounted to honest errors that would be corrected.

But Gregory argued the corrections made in response to issues with the book, which were appended to the dissertation in 2021 before it was posted online this August, are themselves “plagued with academic misconduct” and ignored most of what Gregory complained about last year.

“I find this to be a gross case of incompetence for a university which is supposed to uphold academic integrity,” Gregory said. “Not only does it showcase the poor response to a serious allegation, but it also reduces the reputation and level of standards for all other students at the University of New Brunswick.”

Mastriano’s dissertation, largely a biography of the war hero from Tennessee, also documented his attempt to locate the precise spot of York’s famed gun battle in the woods of northern France in the waning days of the war.

A faculty member who evaluated the work, New Brunswick history professor Jeff Brown, said Mastriano’s degree was granted over his protests. Armed with his doctorate, Mastriano finished his military career by teaching at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, until 2017.

The controversy led some current New Brunswick history graduate students to seek a meeting with their department head, and Mazerolle said the fallout has caught his attention.

“I’m hearing generally two things” from faculty and graduate students, Mazerolle said. “One is that people are wanting to get on with their work and that this is kind of a distraction. And then I’m hearing on the other side, there are people who are deeply concerned and worrying about the reputation of the department and worried about the reputation of people’s degrees.”

Mazerolle said the external reviewers of the school’s processes and policies, who have not yet been named, will focus on the role of faculty advisors as well as the handling of embargoed dissertations.

Richard Yeomans, a doctoral student in history at New Brunswick was among about 20 graduate students who met with administrators to discuss the matter about two weeks ago. He said in an email Wednesday that he doubts MaGee can be impartial, given his response to Gregory’s 2021 complaint.

The graduate students have been “collectively unimpressed with how this situation has been handled, and the disruptions that this has caused to all of us. Of course, we want to get back to our research, but we want and need accountability to do so,” Yeomans said.

Days after filing the new complaint, Gregory received an email from MaGee saying the initial investigation was starting right away.

“It’s unfortunate that it took an entire publicity debacle for UNB to look for actual reviewers to confirm my complaints. I can only hope they do their due diligence this time in regards to the faulty dissertation,” Gregory said Tuesday. “They should also make sure to correct the issues that led to this poor example of research being awarded a Ph.D.”

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University makes new review of Mastriano’s doctoral research