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Some Faculty Question NDSU Professor’s ‘Distinguished’ Status


Four of Tom Isern’s fellow professors at North Dakota State University are questioning whether he deserves a special award and the pay raise and title that goes with it.

The faculty members have protested to administrators about the history professor receiving the distinguished professor award, a new NDSU initiative that honors top faculty with a $20,000 raise and prestigious title.

Isern’s backers say his accomplishments make him deserving of the award.

The protesting professors say Isern bullied colleagues and caused a division in the history department, some of which stems back to a 2004 plagiarism accusation against another professor.

The faculty also call Isern an easy grade whose scholarly work isn’t up to snuff.

“Apparently the administrators have a different definition of scholarly than I do,” said David Danbom, another history professor who was nominated for the same award.

Danbom, three other members of the history department and one graduate student wrote e-mails protesting Isern’s honor.

“I’m disappointed that NDSU couldn’t find anybody more honorable to honor,” said professor Claire Strom. “It’s a travesty to reward someone who has done so much damage to his department and his college.”

The other protestors are Strom’s husband, professor Jim Norris, and Larry Peterson, a professor and former department chairman.

The root of the rift in the history department relates to a 2004 plagiarism allegation against Strom, made by a graduate student who is now married to Isern.

Suzzanne Kelley accused Strom of using bogus citations and borrowing phrases without proper quotation and attribution.

A University of Nebraska history professor reviewed the case and found 14 improper citations and five examples of borrowing phrases without quotation or attribution that adhered to American Historical Association standards.

A NDSU faculty review committee disagreed and cleared Strom of the allegation.

Afterward, Isern continued making various allegations against her and anyone who supported her, Strom said.

Isern’s supporters say they are disappointed his colleagues would tear him down.

“I think a lot of people would view it as sour grapes, and extreme sour grapes,” said Dennis Cooley, another history professor.

Isern has seen the e-mails protesting his award and declined to comment about them.

“I’m more interested in building up the department of history,” said Isern, who came to NDSU in 1992 as dean of humanities and social sciences.

In 1995, he stepped down from being dean to become professor of history. Prior to coming to NDSU, Isern spent 12 years at Emporia (Kan.) State University.

NDSU President Joseph Chapman announced the new distinguished professor award in October. To be considered for the award, faculty needed to be full professors with 10 years of service to NDSU. They needed outstanding academic records with consideration given to their instruction, research, service and national or international reputation.

In addition to the $20,000 added to their salaries each year, they also receive $5,000 annually in operating money.

Chapman said he endorsed the seven professors who were recommended to him.

“I consider all seven of these people to be distinguished,” Chapman said.

No one has protested the awards of the other six professors, Chapman said.

The deans and vice presidents who reviewed Isern’s accomplishments felt good about his work, Chapman said.

“I don’t have any concerns about Tom’s scholarship,” Chapman said. “He’s a highly regarded historian.”

Isern said he’s proud to be part of NDSU’s first group of distinguished professors.

“It’s a wonderful honor,” Isern said. “It’s not one that I’ll consider tarnished by any of this.”

Information from: The Forum,

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