The doctoral thesis of former Katy ISD Superintendent Lance Hindt has apparently been removed from the University of Houston’s archival website following a review of alleged plagiarism, renewing questions about a $750,000 payout by the suburban district to its former head.

UH announced in October 2018 that it was reviewing questions about the dissertation of Hindt, who had resigned five months earlier amid an uproar over decades-old bullying allegations against him. The university said at the time that it “takes any charge of academic or research misconduct seriously and thoroughly investigates any such charge, including the allegations against Dr. Hindt.”

Sean Dolan, a Katy ISD parent who brought the complaint, said he received a letter from the university on Jan. 13 telling him that his allegations into research misconduct had concluded and that “a final institutional decision was reached.” As of December, he said, the dissertation could no longer be found on UH’s archival website. A URL that used to link to Hindt’s dissertation on the university’s website now shows a message that says, “Resource not found.”

UH would neither confirm nor deny whether the dissertation had been taken down, citing federal privacy laws and university policy. A university spokesperson, however, directed a Houston Chronicle reporter to its online “Take Down Policy,” which says a thesis or dissertation “will only be removed under special circumstances, including copyright violations, plagiarism, or falsification of data.”

“The university is prohibited from confirming the status or completion of disciplinary proceedings or providing information about any disciplinary proceedings involving students or former students, with the exception of other individuals authorized under state and federal law and university policies to receive the information,” the university said in a statement.

Critics say the revelations are troubling, as was the Katy ISD board’s decision to pay Hindt $750,000, the equivalent of two years of his base pay, when he abruptly announced in May 2018 that he planned to resign at the end of the year. His announcement came shortly after news reports about the plagiarism allegations. UH has said a finding of academic misconduct could result in degree revocation.

“The message it sends to the students and the community, that you can cheat at the highest level in education and be rewarded with almost a million dollars, plus an insane pension — that’s not the message we need to send to people,” Dolan said.

Efforts to reach Hindt were unsuccessful, and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

The school district had defended the superintendent when the allegations surfaced, with a spokeswoman saying there was “zero truth” to the claims of academic misconduct. The board even voted during a May 2018 board meeting to hire the law firm of Feldman & Feldman to pursue a defamation case on Hindt’s behalf.

Board members did not respond to requests for comment, and the school district would not comment on the status of the dissertation or any litigation.

“Katy ISD has not been contacted by the University of Houston concerning the matter,” the district said in a statement.

Hindt, a graduate of Katy ISD schools who returned in 2016 to lead the 80,000-student district, drew praise during his first two years for backing teacher pay raises, developing a $609 million bond package that voters approved and establishing a five-year plan for the district. He previously led Allen ISD.

But his fortunes took a turn on March 19, 2018, when Greg Gay, a former middle-school classmate of Hindt’s, stepped up to the lectern at a Katy ISD board meeting and alleged that he had bullied him in middle school. Hindt appeared to laugh at the accusation during the video clip but later denied the claim. Another former student came forward and backed Gay’s claim, while a judge in Alabama who’d attended Taylor High School with Hindt spoke out, describing the former football player as a “vicious bully.” The clip of the board meeting confrontation soon went viral, with some parents calling for the superintendent to resign, while many others added their names to a petition supporting him.

As the bullying accusations drew national attention, Dolan began looking into Hindt’s academic record.

In April 2018, Dolan says, he ran the dissertation through a plagiarism checker, Copyleaks, and discovered the similarities. The next month, he brought the matter to UH. The superintendent resigned that same month, decrying what he called a “smear campaign” but walking away with the $750,000 payout, as well as the district’s promise to pay for a potential defamation suit against his accusers.

Hindt’s doctoral thesis, “The Effects of Principal Leadership on Teacher Morale and Student Achievement,” was considered similar to Georgia educator Keith Rowland’s own dissertation, “The Relationship of Principal Leadership and Teacher Morale,” published four years earlier.

Rowland, a school principal in suburban Atlanta, previously told the Houston Chronicle it was clear Hindt had lifted portions of his own dissertation without attribution.

“There were a lot of similarities,” he said. “A lot of the sections were just flipped and copied.”

Dolan’s website highlights entire sections of Hindt’s dissertation that make the same points, often using similar language, and provides 20 examples of similarly or identically written sentences.

In one example, Rowland writes, “The surveys were placed in the teachers’ boxes in each school’s mailroom.”

Hindt writes, “The surveys were then placed in the teachers’ boxes in each school’s mailroom.”

In another, Rowland writes, “Teachers received an email from the researcher describing the purpose of the research prior to receiving the surveys.”

Hindt: “Teachers received an email from the principal describing the purpose of the research prior to receiving the surveys.”

Peter Wood, the president of the New York-based National Association of Scholars, has called on Katy ISD to rescind the payout given to Hindt in light of the dissertation being take down. He also urged UH to be transparent about whether Hindt’s doctorate has been revoked. Wood wrote a letter to UH President Renu Khator in July 2018 that raised concerns about Hindt’s dissertation.

“It appears that there was a degree of excessive confidence by the board in Mr. Hindt’s integrity,” Wood said of the Katy ISD school board. “That confidence went so far as to overlook real, present evidence of misconduct on his part.”

Dolan agreed the university should say publicly whether the dissertation has been removed, noting how five other dissertations have cited Hindt’s dissertation since 2012.

“I feel like there’s a responsibility because this dissertation exists out there and it looks legitimate,” Dolan said. “There’s a duty, there’s an ethical duty, to let others know not to cite this.”

Wood also wondered why it took the university more than a year to investigate the plagiarism claims. He said he was alarmed that Hindt was originally able to get away with presenting a dissertation that was plagiarized and wonders if there are other dissertations like Hindt’s within the university.

Asked Wood, “How many other dissertations were similarly treated as proper evidence of earning a doctoral degree without being properly supervised or scrutinized?” .

Mike Glenn contributed to this report.

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