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Yin v. Iowa Board of Regents

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 21, 2019

PENGZHEN YIN, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
IOWA BOARD OF REGENTS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Karen A. Romano, Judge.

         The Iowa Board of Regents appeals the district court order reversing its decision to expel a student.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and George A. Carroll, Assistant Attorney General, for appellant.

          Jonathan M. Causey of Causey & Ye Law, P.L.L.C., Des Moines, for appellee.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., Greer, J., and Scott, S.J. [*]

          SCOTT, SENIOR JUDGE.

         The Iowa Board of Regents (Board) appeals the district court order reversing its decision to expel a student for academic misconduct. The Board's decision is supported by substantial evidence. We reverse the district court's decision and remand for an order affirming the Board's decision.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings

         Pengzhen Yin is a student in the Tippee College of Business (TCB) at the University of Iowa (UI). Yin was involved in an incident of academic misconduct on December 11, 2015, while taking an English proficiency exam. Although the students taking the test were told to move to a new section and no longer work on previous sections, Yin was observed working on a previous section of the test. As a sanction for his conduct, Yin received no points for the section of the test that he improperly went back to work on, thereby reducing his overall grade. Yin did not appeal the finding he engaged in academic misconduct.

         Yin was involved in a second incident of academic misconduct on March 30, 2016. In the class, "ESL Academic Reading Skills, "[1] the instructor noticed Yin's answers in a quiz were "eerily similar" to those of another student. When questioned, Yin stated "he had copied some answers." As a sanction for this incident, Yin's grade on the quiz was cut in half. Yin also did not appeal this finding he engaged in academic misconduct. Yin was informed by Kenneth Brown, the Associate Dean of TCB, a second violation was "a serious matter."

         A third incident of academic misconduct occurred on December 15, 2017. Yin was assigned to write a four-page paper for "Asian Humanities: China." Yin submitted a paper titled, "Confucianism: Struggles in the Modern World." The instructor, Cuma Ozkan, stated Yin's paper was "so perfect that I could not compare this paper with the student's other writings. It is quite obvious that this paper is written from a very professional writer." Ozkan also noted the paper contained no references to personal experiences. Yin was given an "F" for the paper.

         Brown informed Yin on January 8, 2018, TCB was recommending Yin be expelled from UI, "[b]ecause of the severity of this incident, and your prior offenses." Lon Moeller, Associate Provost, interviewed Yin and Ozkan. Moeller concluded Yin did not write the paper. He accepted TCB's recommendation Yin should be expelled from UI. Yin appealed to the Board. On June 11, 2018, the Board affirmed the final decision of UI.

         Yin filed a petition for judicial review, challenging the decision of the Board. The court issued a decision on December 6, 2018, stating:

The court finds the Board's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Throughout its investigation the University was never able to provide any solid evidence the paper had been written by anyone other than Yin. Yin's expulsion was based merely on "a suspicion" the paper may have been written by someone other than Yin. The University could not identify who that person may be or produce any written source that contained the same information as Yin's paper. Yin explained his writing process and provided a written statement detailing his decisions for each section of the paper. The professor seemed primarily to base his suspicion on a comparison between Yin's former writing in the class and his writing style in the paper. As Yin noted, ...

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