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Terry Magnuson, UNC vice chancellor for research, resigns from role

UNC Vice Chancellor for Research Terry Magnuson resigned from his position Thursday. He admitted to plagiarizing text in a National Institute of Health grant application.

UNC Vice Chancellor for Research Terry Magnuson resigned from his position Thursday. He admitted to plagiarizing text in a National Institute of Health grant application.

UPDATE 03/16/2022: The story text has been updated to include information from a March 11 campus-wide message from Magnuson.

Terry Magnuson, vice chancellor for research, is resigning from his position at UNC, the University announced Thursday.

Magnuson, along with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Chris Clemens, agreed the decision is "in the best interest of the University," according to a campus-wide email.

The announcement comes after the federal Office of Research Integrity published a report Tuesday stating that Magnuson "engaged in research misconduct by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly plagiarizing text."

According to the report, he plagiarized in an application to the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health for a grant for cancer research, which was first reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

"Terry accepts responsibility for his mistake and will share more with you about his experience tomorrow," the campus-wide email said.

Magnuson served as the vice chancellor for research for over five years. He also holds membership in the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Magnuson's last day at UNC will be Friday. In the interim, Penny Gordon-Larsen, associate dean for research at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, will serve in the role.

"The University has a very specific role it must play in these matters, and it followed its federally mandated policy regarding research misconduct," the email.

'Wake-up call' to principal investigators

On Friday, March 11, a campus-wide message was sent from Magnuson, who said it would be his last message as the University’s vice chancellor for research.

He began the message by saying that his time was “overextended” because in addition to the vice chancellor role, he had continued to serve as a principal investigator of his lab in the Department of Genetics.

Magnuson said he initially submitted the grant proposal in 2019, and it had been “near the fundable range” upon review, but there wasn’t funding available and he had dropped the proposal in 2020, during the pandemic.

He said members of his lab and students encouraged him to resubmit it to receive funding.

“But you cannot write a grant spending 30 minutes writing and then shifting to deal with the daily crises and responsibilities of a senior leadership position in the university, only to get back to the grant when you find another 30 minutes free,” Magnuson wrote in the message.

In revising the proposal, Magnuson said he had used text from two equipment vendor websites and an online article that was publicly available. He said he had intended to go back and rework them but had lost track of editing and did not rework or cite sources.

And that brings me to my third point,” Magnuson wrote. “Because by now you might be thinking, ‘Well, that doesn’t sound so bad. Mistakes happen.’”

As the University’s Institutional Official, Magnuson wrote, it was his responsibility to ensure research integrity — including in his own work and throughout his office.

Though Magnuson resigned from the vice for research position, he will return to his lab and remain on the faculty of the School of Medicine. The medical school will monitor his work, a parameter of the Office of Research Integrity’s investigation.

He wrote on March 11 that he hopes this experience serves as a “teachable moment.”

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“A wake-up call to PI’s that they should not be trying to write proposals that demand concentrated and focused attention if one is under the burden of pressing administrative duties, and they should rigorously screen those proposals before submission, especially if multiple people are contributing,” he wrote.