A high-profile ally of former U.S. president Donald Trump is on the centre of an educational controversy on the University of Recent Brunswick, where the administration has promised an independent review of how he received a PhD in 2013.
Doug Mastriano, a retired U.S. army colonel, was a little-known state senator in Pennsylvania until he took an energetic role within the movement to overturn Trump’s 2020 election defeat. In May, with Trump’s support, he won the Republican nomination to run for state governor, catapulting his far-right campaign into the national highlight.
On Sept. 9, Mastriano’s academic credentials from UNB were called into query when The Associated Press reported allegations from scholars asserting that his doctoral dissertation was suffering from factual errors and amateurish archeology.
Mastriano has yet to publicly reply to the allegations. Calls to his Pennsylvania offices – in Chambersburg and Gettysburg – weren’t returned.
Richard Yeomans, a PhD candidate in UNB’s history department, said students on the Fredericton campus need to know what the university goes to do to uphold its academic standards.
“I believe that everyone is just shocked on the proven fact that the department has said nothing since this became a world news story,” Yeomans said in a recent interview. “The university has chosen to save lots of face fairly than come to terms with what this implies. A certain level of trust has been breached.”
Yeomans said graduate students have raised their concerns with the chair of the history department, Lisa Todd. Todd didn’t reply to a request for an interview.
Earlier this month, the university issued an announcement acknowledging the allegations against Mastriano were causing “concern or confusion” amongst students, alumni and the general public.
“UNB has a transparent policy for coping with any allegations of research misconduct,” the statement said. “UNB will review its internal processes to make sure our systems and policies across the awarding of PhDs remain of the best standard.”
The Oct. 6 statement said the review could be conducted by two independent academics, but there was no indication of a deadline or if the outcomes could be made public.
Jeffrey Brown, a history professor at UNB, said he was among the many first to boost red flags about Mastriano’s dissertation in 2012-13, which focused on U.S. army Sgt. Alvin York, a highly decorated First World War infantryman. As a member of the examining board that reviewed Mastriano’s work, Brown said he identified problems early on.
“Through subsequent drafts, those problems didn’t disappear,” Brown said in an interview last week. “It became evident that Mastriano wasn’t really taking my suggestions seriously.”
He said the important problem with Mastriano’s 500-page paper was that it relied too heavily on a 1928 autobiography that has been called into query by other historians for being a simplistic portrait that glorifies York’s life and battlefield exploits.
Brown, who has taught at UNB for 21 years, also cited shortcomings with an archeological dig Mastriano led in France before enrolling within the PhD program, which Mastriano claimed unearthed the location where York defeated a complete German machine-gun battalion in October 1918. The professor said two qualified experts had come forward in 2008 to dispute Mastriano’s findings.
In an internal examiner’s assessment submitted Feb. 8, 2013, Brown told Mastriano to acknowledge that the 2 researchers – geoscientist Thomas Nolan at Middle Tennessee State University and historian Michael Birdwell at Tennessee Tech University – had situated the battlefield at a distinct site.
“These scholars explicitly reject Mastriano’s findings,” the assessment says. “Mastriano makes no mention of this debate in his dissertation.”
After Mastriano provided final revisions to his paper in April 2013, Brown submitted a letter to the dissertation supervisor, Marc Milner, saying he was considering removing his name from the paper.
“Doug (Mastriano’s) revisions could have spoken to a few of what disturbs me about his work, but they’ve not diminished my concerns about its fairness and scholarly integrity,” says the letter, a duplicate of which was provided to The Canadian Press.
“The charge of dishonesty, in truth, is in all places within the letters of concern we have now each received from individuals who imagine that Doug’s dissertation mustn’t be accepted by UNB.”
In line with Brown, Milner told him his input was not required since the examining board had enough members to proceed. Brown said he expected his name could be faraway from the paper’s final draft, but that didn’t occur. Mastriano was awarded a PhD later that yr, and the paper was subsequently used as the idea for a 2014 book by Mastriano.
Milner couldn’t be reached for comment.
James Gregory, an instructor and PhD candidate on the University of Oklahoma, said he became concerned about Mastriano’s work after he cited a passage from the 2014 book in an article. Gregory received messages indicating the fabric was questionable and decided to have a better have a look at the book.
In January 2021, Gregory submitted a listing of 15 issues he found to the publisher, the University Press of Kentucky. And he followed up by requesting the unique dissertation from UNB.
“Nobody would tell me where it was,” Gregory said in an interview last week. Eventually, he was told the paper had been placed under an embargo until 2030, which the university later admitted was a violation of UNB regulations that allow for less than a four-year embargo.
After the dissertation was released in August of this yr, Gregory discovered Mastriano had attached a listing of 21 corrections, a few of which addressed his original allegations.
But upon reviewing the dissertation, Gregory sent a report back to UNB this month documenting 213 allegations of educational misconduct. “His dissertation and subsequent book are built upon falsified research,” Gregory’s latest report alleges.
For example, Gregory points to a citation for a passage that describes intimately the weather conditions in France’s Argonne forest as an investigation began into York’s battlefield heroics. In line with Gregory, the cited source is a telegram that features nothing greater than a temporary travel itinerary.
“The university must do something,” said Gregory, writer of “Unravelling the Myth of Sgt. Alvin York,” to be published in December.
“They either need to return out and say Mastriano’s dissertation is ideal example of the usual we uphold here at UNB, or they should do something about it. There’s no way this could have passed.”