Brick building with white pillars and three banners spelling "UNC"
Brick building with white pillars and three banners spelling "UNC"

UNC Research Chief Admits to Plagiarism, Resigns

Geneticist Terry Magnuson steps down as vice-chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after he copied text from multiple sources he found online into a grant application. 

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Natalia Mesa

Natalia Mesa is an intern at The Scientist. She has a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Washington and a bachelor’s in biological sciences from Cornell University.

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Mar 11, 2022

ABOVE: © iStock.com, DNY59

Developmental geneticist Terry Magnuson has resigned as vice-chancellor for research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after a federal investigation found evidence of plagiarism in one of his National Institutes of Health grant applications.

Magnuson agreed to step down from his position days after the investigation was publicly disclosed, admitting that he copied online text into a grant application, according to Times Higher Education. Retraction Watch reports that today (March 11) is his last day in the post.

On March 8, the US federal government’s Office of Research Integrity (ORI) posted the findings of its investigation of Magnuson’s grant application, which he submitted last March to the NIH and the National Cancer Institute. The plagiarized text came from two guides, material from a company that makes sequencing kits, and a review article, according to a Retraction Watch post from earlier this week

In a case summary of the investigation, ORI investigators write that Magnuson “engaged in research misconduct by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly plagiarizing text.”

According to Retraction Watch, in a letter to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) community yesterday, university officials write that they came to an agreement with Magnuson that his resignation was in the best interest of the university. University chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and provost Chistopher Clemens write that Magnuson also “accepts responsibility for his mistake” and will soon explain the situation publicly. 

The statement from university officials came shortly after Mimi Chapman, a professor of social work and UNC’s chair of faculty government, said that Magnuson remaining as vice-chancellor for research would be “unacceptable to many of her colleagues,” reports THE.

THE also reports that Magnuson has accepted a settlement agreement that includes a two-year supervisory period, beginning last month, during which his grants will be subject to additional scrutiny upon review by both UNC and the federal government.

Penny Gordon-Larsen, the associate dean for research at UNC’s school of public health, will serve as UNC’s interim vice-chancellor for research.

Since his appointment to vice-chancellor in 2016, UNC has seen a steady growth in its research funding income, which now exceeds $1 billion annually, according to THE.