- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The head of Arkansas’ largest school district resigned Tuesday amid plagiarism questions involving his 2009 doctoral dissertation.

The Arkansas Department of Education announced that Little Rock Superintendent Dexter Suggs was resigning immediately under an agreement reached with Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who took over in March. The agreement includes a severance package that will pay Suggs $46,208.50 within 10 days, plus another $202,000 by Jan. 1 unless his Ph.D. is revoked.

The accusation of plagiarism was published by attorney and liberal blogger Matt Campbell on his blog, The Blue Hog Report. Campbell obtained a copy of Suggs’ Indiana Wesleyan University dissertation and posted photos alongside a 2005 University of Oklahoma dissertation, showing more than a dozen sentences were printed word-for-word in both, including bibliographic references.

Neither a statement from the Education Department nor the agreement gives an explicit reason for the resignation. The agreement includes a nondisclosure/nondisparagement clause that prohibits Suggs from speaking about the resignation agreement and prohibits Department of Education officials from making disparaging statements.

“I think allowing someone to resign rather than firing him is the coward’s way out. He plagiarized the document, and then lied about it when confronted. Why is that not a fireable offense?” Campbell said Tuesday.

Suggs told television station KATV last week he had permission to use Scott’s dissertation.

“You have to get what they call a release form, so you have to go through that particular process. I did go through that particular process,” he said.

Indiana Wesleyan officials said they were aware of the accusations but could not confirm whether an investigation was being conducted.

Don Sprowl, chief academic officer for Indiana Wesleyan, said the university takes incremental disciplinary actions for issues of academic dishonesty.

“It depends on the context. Sanctions for academic dishonesty can be an F or 0 on an assignment, an F in a course or an expulsion. There is a precedent of revocation of academic degrees post-graduation,” he said.

Under Suggs’ agreement, if his Ph.D. is revoked he would not receive four severance payments of $50,500 between July 1 and Jan. 1. There is no requirement in the agreement that Suggs notify the department if his degree is revoked, and Sprowl said the university does not release that information because of privacy issues.

When asked whether the University of Oklahoma had given Suggs permission to use the 2005 dissertation, Catherine Bishop, a spokeswoman for the university, said she had “not been able to determine any involvement by the university.”

State officials have operated the 25,000-student Little Rock School District since declaring part of it in academic distress last January. Suggs served as superintendent starting in July 2013 and was retained when the state dissolved the school board and took over.

Department officials said Tuesday that Marvin Burton, the district’s deputy superintendent, will serve as interim superintendent.

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