MAASTRICHT. “There is absolutely no problem whatsoever” with publications and other forms of collaboration between James Hunton, who has been found to have committed fraud, and Maastricht researchers. This is the verdict of Philip Vergauwen, dean of the School of Business and Economics, on the American professor of accountancy who held a part-time post at Maastricht University from December 2002 until March 2009. The department head Roger Meuwissen, too, concluded that Hunton’s Maastricht output is limited and “uncontaminated”.
James Hunton came under fire last week. Following an investigation by a Committee on Academic Integrity, the Association of Dutch Universities (VSNU) announced that it had doubts about the academic reliability of three articles linked to Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), where Hunton worked from 2009 to 2012. These articles have since been retracted by the journals following their own investigations.
“It’s not news to us, given that we were already made aware in 2012 of allegations against Hunton”, says Meuwissen, head of the Department of Accounting and Information Management at UM.
In November 2012 the EUR and Hunton’s main employer, Bentley University in Massachusetts, received the first complaint about an article by Hunton in The Accounting Review. Bentley University launched an investigation.
In view of this news, the School of Business and Economics decided to take a closer look at Hunton’s Maastricht output – after all, by then he had been professor there for more than six years. A journal article, his inaugural lecture from October 2004 and a PhD dissertation written under his supervision were all put under the microscope. The article, entitled Decision aid reliance, had appeared in the International Journal of Accounting Information Systems with Maastricht co-authors Mohamed Gomaa, Eddy Vaassen and Martin Carree. “There was no evidence that data manipulation took place”, says Meuwissen.
Martin Carree, professor of Industrial Organisation at UM, describes the case as “very disappointing and sad. I don’t know Hunton well; I’m from a different field and just spoke to him a few times when he worked here. I was involved with the methodology of the article, came on board only after the data had been collected. I did see the data and ask questions about it, but I didn’t notice anything strange about it.” The article involved a web-based experiment conducted among students at an American university in 2005.
“Gomaa was mainly responsible for the data collection, he programmed the experiment and put it online. He doesn’t believe the data could be falsified.”
Still, the question remains whether it’s entirely impossible that Hunton committed fraud. “It’s a difficult question. We can’t rule out the idea that Hunton might have sat behind the computer himself filling in answers, although it’s hard to imagine and there’s no evidence for it. We presented our findings to Bentley University and the International Journal of Accounting Information Systems – the decision was up to them. They found it reliable enough and decided not to retract the article.”
Hunton seems to have vanished when the first signs of fraud came to light. Carree: “He was seen as a good researcher, had the kind of CV that meant there was no need for him to commit fraud at all. But, like Diederik Stapel, he went down the wrong path.”
According to the website Retraction Watch, more than thirty articles that were either first or co-authored by Hunton have now been retracted, mainly at the request of the American Accounting Association, which says it has identified a “pattern of misconduct”.