Fraud causes examined as U rebuilds after scandal

Mike Wereschagin

Time heals all wounds, but that offers little comfort to the patient recovering from cancer left with reminders of the disease and the debilitating treatment.
As the University begins recovering from the academic-fraud scandal, it must contend with many of the same emotions. Anger, sorrow, betrayal and regret will linger for years.
Also, it must come answer a question that demands resolution: How did this happen?
The investigative report on the men’s basketball academic misconduct points to a lack of institutional control and oversight as primary reasons why this cancer flourished in the program for five years.
The only outside organization charged with athletics department oversight, the Assembly Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics, has no actual power of enforcement, according to its academic-review policy.
But the report criticizes administrators for not reigning in former men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins. It labels him a “power coach,” someone who built a wall around his program that fostered fraud and corruption.
That wall encompassed former tutor Jan Gangelhoff, who wrote at least 400 papers for men’s basketball players.
It also enclosed former academic counselor Alonzo Newby, a man who pressured faculty members to change players’ grades, keeping them eligible under NCAA and University guidelines.
According to the report, Haskins also instructed players to lie to investigators when questioned in March about the program’s academic integrity.
All told, Haskins and others committed 1,000 pages of violations, betrayals, academic misconduct, coercion and payments against NCAA policies.
What allowed them to do it was simply that no one caught them, according to the report’s findings.
So University President Mark Yudof said he would institute a “system of checks and balances.”
Tonya Moten Brown, Yudof’s chief of staff, echoed this sentiment, saying University officials plan to institute a “rigorous system of institutional oversight.”
If the current governance system remains in place, however, that might prove to be logically and practically impossible.
The ACIA is a committee of the University Senate, a faculty organization. The group oversees student-athletes to ensure they are making adequate academic progress.
If they find players are not making progress, they perform an academic review, which, according to ACIA policy, “is intended to specify steps and develop plans that will return the team to a higher, acceptable level of academic performance.”
But the ACIA does not have the authority to make policy changes themselves.
Procedures dictate that oversight committee members meet with coaches and academic counselors when a team falls below academic standards. Coaches and academic counselors are then charged with correcting the problem. The coaches are also arguably the ones with the most to gain from a winning team.
Yudof, men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart and McKinley Boston, vice president of student development and athletics, have said many times that the vast majority of athletic officials are honorable, honest people.
With officials like this, the system in place is solid.
But the ACIA was not designed to prevent corruption. University administrators did not consider that a coach would weigh winning games over student-athletes’ academic integrity.
In a “power-coach culture,” Haskins used wins to buy himself power within the University. Over the years, he became so influential that he brought the men’s basketball program completely under his control.
With the ball in his court, Haskins kept the ACIA uninformed of the tutoring team working to keep his players eligible for competition.
How much suspicion officials raised is unclear in the report. Several faculty members said they alerted athletics officials to potential impropriety but found little or no support.
Kathryn Sedo, ACIA chair, said she brought committee concerns and recommendations to the men’s athletics director, but no action was taken.
Sander Latts, former General College professor, said he suspected a paper turned in by former Gophers basketball player Courtney James was not legitimate. But when he brought his concerns to the men’s athletics director, Latts said he was not given the department’s support. No action was taken.
Dienhart has repeatedly denied knowledge of academic fraud.
Upon announcing his resignation, he said: “I am proud, without exception, of the way I managed this program.”
In the end, the report found no evidence indicating Dienhart or Boston were involved in the cheating. But it stated that their offices, along with the ACIA, “failed effectively to administer and supervise the men’s basketball program.”
In response, the Senate Consultative Committee is considering creating a new athletics oversight committee.
But the new committee, dubbed the Faculty Oversight Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics, would only have added powers of budget and gender-equity oversight.
SCC members also proposed having committee members go over student-athletes’ transcripts to ensure acceptable graduation rates and academic progress.
No proposals have been outlined by the SCC or Yudof to empower the oversight committee with enforcement authority, and the new committee is unlikely to have any more real power than the ACIA.
As Dienhart noted at a Friday press conference, proposals to restructure athletics oversight will face serious roadblocks.
“If someone wants to lie and deceive, they will be able to do so,” he said. “No matter what safeguards are put in place.”

Mike Wereschagin welcomes comments at [email protected] He also can be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3226.