fb-pixel Skip to main content

Wheelock official resigns after she used others’ words

A top Wheelock College administrator who acknowledged using passages written by others — including Harvard University president Drew Faust — in a welcome letter to faculty last month has resigned, the school announced Monday.

Shirley Malone-Fenner stepped down from her post as interim vice president for academic affairs effective immediately, Wheelock’s president said in an e-mail to faculty and staff.

“I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Dr. Malone-Fenner for her service to the College,” president Jackie Jenkins-Scott wrote in the two-sentence e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe.

It was not clear whether Malone-Fenner will stay on at the Fenway school in any other capacity. She is listed on the college’s website as a professor of psychology and human development.


The Globe reported last week that Malone-Fenner’s welcome letter borrowed passages from a letter written by Faust in 2007 and from two other college presidents’ welcome letters, also without attribution.

Malone-Fenner apologized the next day in an e-mail to faculty, staff, and students.

Malone-Fenner, who has a doctorate in education from Vanderbilt University, served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Wheelock before she was appointed in July as vice president of academic affairs, a job similar to provost at other colleges. She was the top administrator in charge of overseeing incidents of student plagiarism, which can lead to suspension or expulsion.

A Wheelock professor discovered similarities between Malone-Fenner’s letter and the other three after running it through software the school uses to detect student plagiarism. Many of the copied passages were rhetorical, inspirational language used to encourage faculty to work together.

Specialists on plagiarism said this incident differs from cases of academic plagiarism because the letter was not a graded assignment nor academic research. But specialists contacted by the Globe said she should have cited the sources.


Susan D. Blum, an anthropology professor at the University of Notre Dame who wrote a book about plagiarism, said it is common for businesses to borrow chunks of text from in-house colleagues, but never from outside sources without attribution.

The college released a statement Monday afternoon confirming Malone-Fenner’s resignation, signed jointly by Jenkins-Scott and board of trustees chairwoman Kate Taylor.

“We extend a heartfelt thank you to Dr. Malone-Fenner for her service to the College in this role. Support of our academic deans will continue while we consider next steps,” the statement said. It said the college strives to maintain the “highest standards of academic excellence, honesty, and integrity.”

The letter is the most recent incident during a turbulent year at the college, which specializes in early childhood education and social work.

In April, New England’s regional accrediting agency highlighted problems at Wheelock, including financial challenges, departure of top staff, and overworked faculty. The report outlined a communication breakdown between the board, the president, and the faculty that it says must be remedied if the school is to improve. It says the college lacks comprehensive and coherent planning, hindering faculty and administrators when they attempt to put new plans in motion.

Faculty and administrators have sparred over several issues, and the school has seen more than 18 staff leave in the past year. In a presentation to the board in March, faculty highlighted the fact that five vice presidents of academic affairs have left in the past 10 years.

Accreditors are scheduled to meet with Wheelock officials later this month before the agency decides whether to reaccredit the college.

Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.