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Bentley professor resigns after his research is retracted

A prominent Bentley University accounting professor, in the midst of an internal investigation over the retraction of a scholarly article he coauthored, has resigned.

James E. Hunton will leave Bentley Dec. 31, a spokeswoman for the Waltham school confirmed, citing “family and health reasons.”

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Bentley launched a review last month of the retraction by the professor, who is widely published in accounting journals and has received numerous awards.

In a statement in response to a Globe inquiry, the school said, “Bentley University and its faculty take the research process extremely seriously, and we place the highest expectations for rigor, diligence and ethical methods on our faculty.”

The American Accounting Association’s “Accounting Review” first posted a notice of the retraction last month: “The authors confirmed a misstatement in the article and were unable to provide supporting information requested by the editor and publisher. ­Accordingly, the article has been retracted.”

The article, written by Hunton and Anna Gold of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, purported to examine the outcomes of three “fraud brainstorming” approaches. The authors claimed to have used data involving 150 US audit offices and 2,614 auditors of a CPA firm. But when it later came to light that the 150 offices were both domestic and international, that prompted other questions by the journal about the data.Hunton declined to answer the questions, saying the data were confidential.

The retraction drew attention in academia and on a website that tracks errors in journals, called Retraction Watch, including from someone pretending to be Harry Markopolos, the famous Bernard Madoff whistle-blower.

James E. Hunton is leaving Bentley at the end of the month, the school confirmed, citing ‘family and health reasons.’

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A letter published there explaining the retraction and signed by Hunton and Gold said the authors “apologize for the inadvertently inaccurate description of the sample frame.’’ It also said that although they believed the inaccurate description of the sample “does not materially impact either the internal validity of the study or the conclusions set forth in the Article, the authors consider it appropriate to voluntarily withdraw the Article.”

Hunton and Gold did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. In the letter, Hunton appears to take responsibility for the retraction, saying he was the only one to receive data from the CPA firm, and that Gold does not know the firm’s identity and was not party to the confidentiality agreement.

The acknowledgment by Bentley was a turnabout. Last month, the school said the retraction was the result of a simple error. An e-mail to the faculty on Tuesday from Roy “Chip” Wiggins 3d, dean of business and Bentley’s McCallum Graduate School, informed them of Hunton’s resignation.

It cited Hunton’s stated reasons for leaving — family and medical — and said, “I am sure we all wish him the best as he focuses his energy and efforts on these important issues.” A copy of the e-mail was obtained by the Globe.

Hunton was held in some esteem at Bentley. He is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor of Accounting, focusing on information systems, fraud, and forensics. He holds a 1994 doctorate from the University of Texas Arlington, according to his biography on the Bentley website, and has co-written three books and dozens of journal articles.

Hunton has also received numerous awards and honors, most recently the Mee Family Award at Bentley for “a lifetime of scholarly work demonstrated by a distinguished faculty member.” When he got the honor in August, and $25,000, Bentley’s president, Gloria Cordes Larson, said that in Hunton’s nine years at the school, “Jim has had a profound, positive influence on the welfare of Bentley’s students, success of his fellow colleagues, and international standing of the university.’’

Hunton also has served as an editor and committee chair in recent years for the American Accounting Association, publisher of the journal from which his paper was retracted.

Beth Healy can be reached at bhealy@globe.com.
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