'No student has ever been unfairly graded by me'

Professor accused of failing to rigorously mark exam papers speaks out. Melanie Newman reports

A professor has denied allegations that she failed to mark exam papers rigorously and forged second markers' signatures, describing herself as "politically incorrect", "outspoken" and an "easy target".

It was reported last week that Annmarie Surprenant, professor of neuroscience at the University of Manchester, is being investigated by her employer after a colleague claimed that 80 undergraduate life science final exam papers had been marked and second-marked in less than 48 hours and that they did not appear to have been properly assessed.

Nobody had identified themselves as the second marker, it was alleged, and concerns were also raised about a second set of exam papers belonging to pharmacy students on another course, which were marked by Professor Surprenant in January.

Press reports also pointed out that in 1994, the academic resigned from her post at the Vollum Institute, Oregon Health Sciences University, after admitting that she had misrepresented her academic credentials on US government grant applications.

Professor Surprenant, who has until now remained silent about the allegations, told Times Higher Education: "I am quite politically incorrect, outspoken and have never adhered to the oft-repeated and probably excellent advice to 'watch your back', because I believe watching one's back will never move us forward.

"This makes me an easy target for a certain type of person. Half-truths, false accusations and malicious gossip readily ruin one's reputation in the eyes of that certain type of person. But in the end it is your work that stands.

"No student has ever been inaccurately or unfairly graded by me, and that stands."

She added that every exam paper had been double-graded and "diligently and accurately annotated and marked".

The university said that the "serious" allegations were being investigated and that "appropriate" action would be taken when its inquiries had been concluded.

Times Higher Education was sent a note last November by an anonymous author criticising the professor's teaching, drawing attention to her resignation from the Vollum Institute and pointing out that she had taken a series of jobs at institutions alongside her husband, Alan North, who is now vice-president of Manchester.

In 1994, the US Office of Research Integrity found that Professor Surprenant had falsely stated that she held an MD degree on three public health service research grant applications, which amounted to scientific misconduct.

After her resignation from the Vollum Institute, she took a job at GlaxoSmithKline in Switzerland. Professor North joined GSK in Geneva in the same year.

She moved to the UK five years later, taking up a post at the University of Sheffield, where Professor North was appointed director of the Institute of Molecular Physiology.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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