Yudof addresses basketball concerns

by Coralie Carlson

About 48 hours after allegations of academic fraud in the University’s basketball team hit the newsstands, University President Mark Yudof sat before state lawmakers, reassuring them of the school’s academic integrity.
Members of the Senate higher education committee — 12 senators who play a significant role in determining the school’s funding — told Yudof on Friday they liked the way he has handled the scandal. If he continues on this route, the senators said, the basketball accusations shouldn’t affect the school’s $1.2 billion budget request now under deliberation.
Yudof suspended four basketball players from Thursday’s first-round NCAA game and ordered an independent investigation of the basketball program, following Wednesday’s report in the Pioneer Press alleging academic fraud.
The report said academic tutors wrote more than 400 papers for 20 teammates in the past five years, and implicated the four players suspended from Wednesday’s game: seniors Kevin Clark, Miles Tarver and Jason Stanford, and sophomore Antoine Broxsie. The Gophers lost 78-63 to Gonzaga.
But the senators, sitting in a conference room at the state Capitol, said they were more concerned with the University’s “academic integrity” than problems that they said are prevalent in college basketball programs across the nation.
“That’s what we’re concerned about, that the academic integrity is not damaged or eroded,” said Sen. Leroy Stumpf, a Democrat from Thief River Falls who chairs the committee.
Yudof said there is already a plagiarism and cheating policy in place and most cases can be dealt with on a one-on-one basis between the professor and student.
He also called the basketball tutoring program — which reported directly to the men’s athletics department instead of the central academic counseling department — a failed experiment. All other athletics teams at the University report to the academic counseling department.
Yudof declined to expand the investigation to all athletics teams at the University, saying it would be “guilt by association.” The University will make an announcement about the basketball investigation sometime this week, he said.
Legislators received Yudof’s “candid” explanations well and were eager to help the University get to the bottom of the allegations.
Yudof said school officials had not seen the documents or interviewed the witnesses cited in the Pioneer Press report, explaining that he doesn’t have subpoena power to acquire them.
Several senators immediately volunteered the committee’s help. The committee has subpoena power and could assist in the investigation, said senators Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, and Dave Kleis, R-St. Cloud.
But Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge, a Democrat from New Hope who chairs the ethical conduct committee, warned against the offer. She said committees rarely use their subpoena power and that extending it to the University might breach Senate rules.
Instead, she suggested that Yudof set up a legislative task force to examine the University’s basketball program and suggest solutions to its academic problems. Junge sat on such a task force in the mid-1980s, she said.
But Yudof declined both offers, saying this is the University’s problem to solve.
“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Yudof said. “Give us a chance.”
Although no one on the committee blamed Yudof for suspending four players from Wednesday’s game, he repeatedly and apologetically explained his decision.
“I didn’t like that part of it,” he said several times. Yudof explained that if he let the students play and the accusations were found to be true, the University might have violated NCAA rules and could face the loss of scholarship money.
Yudof said he would protect the privacy of the students, but if found guilty, there would be no cover-up.