69ºF

UCF faculty helped student obtain Ph.D. in ‘quid pro quo’ for grant funding, report shows

Members of Ph.D. dissertation committee received grant funding approved by student, investigators say

IST's building, PIII. Right next to Partnership II, PIII houses Army and Marine Corps units, the National Center for Simulation and IST training rooms, laboratories and some administrative offices. (Image credit: UCF)
IST's building, PIII. Right next to Partnership II, PIII houses Army and Marine Corps units, the National Center for Simulation and IST training rooms, laboratories and some administrative offices. (Image credit: UCF) (WKMG 2020)


ORLANDO, Fla. – The University of Central Florida will fire the director of a research center and two other faculty members after an internal investigation revealed faculty inappropriately helped a student fraudulently obtain a Ph.D. in “quid pro quo” exchange for grant funding, according to an independent investigation.

UCF began the process of terminating Dr. Randy Shumaker, the director of The Institute for Simulation and Training, and two other faculty members on Monday, according to a news release from the university. Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Wes Naylor will serve as interim director of IST.

UCF hired an independent firm on Dec. 23, 2019 to conduct an investigation after receiving a whistleblower complaint alleging a scheme where Ph.D. candidates could obtain degrees fraudulently in exchange for grants, according to the investigative report.

The Institute for Simulation and Training is one of the nation’s leading research centers for simulation, training and augmented reality. IST works with commercial and defense companies, including the U.S. Navy and Boeing.

At the time of the Ph.D. student’s dissertation, the student was in a role where they managed cooperative funding agreements for several members of the dissertation committee. Cooperative agreements are funds in specific amounts granted to principal investigators of IST projects.

According to the report, Shumaker “had no qualms” with IST attempting to persuade the Ph.D. student into providing funding to IST on the eve of the student’s dissertation, even after an investigation less than six months earlier had found a conflict of interest with the student. Shumaker wrote the Ph.D. student’s recommendation letter for the program, according to the investigators.

“It is our opinion that there was a quid pro quo between (the student) and (researcher Lauren) Reinerman-Jones, with (Ph.D. student) providing funding in exchange for a Ph.D. from UCF,” investigators wrote.

The Ph.D. student declined to be recorded or to be interviewed for more than one hour, according to the report.

“We cannot opine whether (the Ph.D. student) constitute a one-off instance or an example of a continued pattern or practice,” investigators wrote.

UCF is in the process of revoking the student’s doctoral degree.

It’s unclear how much funding was obtained through this “quid pro quo” agreement because all of the monetary information was redacted from the report.

UCF announced several changes Monday as a result of the investigation. The university is reviewing any potential conflicts of interest in previous IST graduate degrees awarded and providing more training on conflicts of interest to IST faculty and staff.

“This is a disturbing incident involving a small number of people who intentionally violated our policies and breached our trust. We will not tolerate it, or let it go quietly,” UCF interim president Thad Seymour, Jr. said in a news release. “It does not reflect the thousands of students, faculty and staff who have built UCF’s reputation for academic excellence."


About the Author: