Fraud report places faculty under scrutiny

Erin Ghere

Most students have had a bad day or two: flunked a quiz, forgotten an assignment or missed a test for a family emergency.
And often, University faculty members are generous in those circumstances; they, too, were students once.
But after Friday’s release of the academic-fraud report, faculty members might be put under the microscope and told to justify their generosity.
Five faculty members were implicated in the fraud report, University President Mark Yudof said at a Friday press conference. The report gives specific examples of faculty members changing men’s basketball players’ grades.
“(Some) faculty and staff at a minimum abetted an ongoing climate of academic misconduct and in several instances actually were aware that improper academic assistance was being provided to basketball student-athletes,” the report’s executive summary said.
The circumstances surrounding instances of questionable faculty aid make each case very different, said Fred Morrison, law professor and Faculty Consultative Committee chairman.
Many faculty and staff members were coerced by former academic counselor Alonzo Newby, according to the report.
ù In 1995, at Newby’s request, a professor allowed a student-athlete to turn in a late paper and then gave the student a “B” even though he wondered whether the paper was written by the student.
ù Two years later, Newby arranged a late change from an A-F scale to a S-N one through a General College adviser. In addition, Newby had a member of the registrar’s staff do the same without an adviser’s consent.
ù Newby directed student-athletes to take classes that would keep them eligible, but not necessarily help them graduate, according to the report. Some of those classes were taught by faculty members friendly to the program.
The report blamed an absence of University policies for Newby and others’ access to faculty members.
“In the absence of an institutional policy or a mandate from a supervisor restricting interaction by Haskins and his assistants with members of the University faculty, members of the men’s basketball academic support and coaching staff frequently contacted faculty, some of whom were susceptible to intimidation and pressure, and obtained special academic accommodations for student-athletes,” the report stated.
Since then, the Senate Consultative Committee, a steering group for a student-faculty governing body, recommended establishing limits for faculty-athletics staff contact. Yudof has said he is likely to adopt such limits.
But the report also cites examples of faculty members’ willingness to accept academic misconduct from student-athletes without pressure from Newby. In 1997, the report said, a professor allowed an athlete to take an “I” in a course rather than an “F,” even though the student did not take the final. The report makes no mention of Newby’s influence on the professor.
Memos from Newby to Haskins, released with the report, mention a faculty member’s willingness to “accommodate” a student-athlete’s need to make up an incomplete to stay eligible. In a memo, Newby noted the professor’s extraordinary effort for the men’s athletics program because the player had never attended his class or even bought the books for it.
In another case, an instructor allowed a basketball player to turn in a 10-page paper, even though 15 pages were required of other students. In addition, according to memos, the instructor told Newby two book summaries would be allowed based on the books’ prefaces, so the player would not have to read the books in their entirety.
But Yudof was quick to say at Friday’s press conference that misconduct was not an “epidemic” of enabling among faculty members.
Much of the University community is still reeling from the evidence of massive academic fraud, significant policy changes and knowledge of misconduct by upper-level athletics personnel and former men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins. But some faculty members hope University officials will not rush to judgment.
Lawrence Rudnick, an astronomy professor, wrote his opinion in a letter to the editor in Tuesday’s Daily.
“I’ve done it all,” he wrote. “I’ve changed grades after the fact. I’ve allowed students to take an incomplete when they should have failed according to the syllabus guidelines.
“I want to keep doing it because students are people,” he continued. “And people have problems, like dealing with suicide of a family member or friend, or with their own attempts.
“I want and need to tell that mother when her kid is in the hospital for the third time that we’ll work something out; we’ll find a way … for her to make up the work next semester.”
Other faculty members maintain that men’s basketball players in their classes were good students, and fraudulent students were a small minority.
“From my side of the fence, I didn’t see athletes doing anything different from any other students,” said Jay Hatch, a General College associate professor who was interviewed by investigators.
The ACIA’s role
The academic-fraud report lays a good portion of blame at the feet of the Assembly Committee for Intercollegiate Athletics, a student-faculty body for the oversight of University athletics programs.
The report said the ACIA, along with other governmental bodies, “failed effectively to administer and supervise the men’s basketball program.”
The report points a finger at University administration, including the ACIA, for allowing a stand-alone academic-counseling position in the men’s basketball program to be created. The position was later filled by Newby.
But at a Nov. 11 faculty committee meeting, Bill Flanigan, political science professor and former ACIA chairman, said final approval for the move never came before the ACIA and, overall, members had disagreed with the decision.
The report also said “regular academic reviews by the ACIA identified the academic deficiencies of these student-athletes. … However, the ACIA did not direct its concerns to the president or central administration, or insist on adequate corrective measures.”
However, the ACIA’s policy regarding academic review states reports would have been distributed to officials who were all directly involved with the academic fraud or who Yudof said did not make enough effort to squelch it.
Kathryn Sedo, law professor and ACIA chairwoman, said at Thursday’s SCC meeting that the University’s administrative structure constrains what the ACIA can do.
She said the committee currently reports solely to the SCC and only has the power to recommend, not approve or disapprove decisions. The committee members also work closely with the NCAA, she said, but have no power within or over the athletics departments.
What’s next
In an effort to change the system last Thursday before the report was released, the SCC discussed creating a new oversight committee, abolishing the ACIA.
If approved in the spring, the new 12-member watchdog group would have powers similar to the ACIA, but would also oversee athletics departments’ budgets and gender-equity issues.
Still, Sedo questioned the new group’s effectiveness under the same University governance system, as the committee will still only have the power to recommend and advise, not vote or make policy.
Faculty members suspected of enabling academic fraud will be questioned about their role and disciplined if they are found guilty. Morrison said the deans of each college will deal with the faculty members under their control.
The accused will be able to appear before the University’s Faculty Senate Judicial Committee, which will decide what, if any, rules were violated and impose proper punishments.

Erin Ghere covers faculty and state government and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3217.