Neuroscience professor faces exam grading probe

Author: By Jonathan Brown

Professor Annmarie Surprenant, who earlier in her career was forced to stand
down from a research post in the United States after admitting faking her
academic credentials, is also accused of forging the signatures of
colleagues meant to check the grades she was awarding.

The University of Manchester confirmed yesterday that it was investigating the
claims which refer to 80 final year papers taken by students who have now
completed their studies. Prof Suprenant holds the Glaxo chair in
neuroscience and is married to one of the university’s most senior and
highly respected managers.

She undertakes cutting edge research which has helped bring in millions of
pounds worth of funding from drug companies looking for a cure for migraine
and muscle pain, an area in which she is a world authority. As well as being
a prolific author with powerful contacts in industry, colleagues described
her as a “consummate networker” with excellent people skills.

But the investigation was launched after the exam scripts appeared to have
been processed too quickly. A fellow academic said alarm bells rang when it
was realized all 80 papers had been marked and second marked in less than 48
hours when it would normally have taken several days. Attempts to match the
signature of the second marker to a member of staff have so far proved
fruitless.

“It looks like she just skimmed over the papers and gave the students whatever
mark she felt like, with no sign of any notes or comments. The second
signatures appear to have been forged. We are supposed to be a top-rated
university with impeccable marking procedures,” the academic said.

A university spokesman confirmed it was taking the allegations seriously after
being alerted by staff. “These are serious allegations that are currently
the subject of a university investigation. When that investigation has been
concluded, appropriate action will be taken, if necessary, in relation to
the member of staff concerned and any students who may have been affected,”
he said.

It also emerged that a separate inquiry is also now underway into a second set
of exam papers taken by students training to be pharmacists and marked by
Prof Surprenant in January. They are also now being monitored for
irregularities.

In 1994 Prof Suprenant admitted falsely claiming that she had a medical degree
from the University of Chicago in three bids for funding. She was forced to
resign from Oregon Health Sciences University and agreed to a three year ban
on making further applications for federal cash from the US government’s
National Institutes of Health.

The academic, who has also worked at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, eventually followed her husband, biologist Prof Alan North who
is currently a vice president of the University of Manchester, to a post at
Sheffield University before moving to her present position in 2006. It is
understood the authorities were aware of the US misrepresentation inquiry
but still went ahead and appointed her to the prestigious chair which comes
with a six figure salary despite concerns among colleagues at the time.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which licenses teaching of MPharm degrees,
confirmed yesterday that it was studying the latest allegations and would be
investigating. Prof Suprenant was understood to be on holiday in the United
States and unavailable for comment.

Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences is one of the most highly regarded
research institutions in the UK. It currently teaches 2,000 students
including 467 post graduates.

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