Faculty optimistic of future in wake of fraud investigation

by Erin Ghere

After a semester of embarrassments for the University, faculty members are looking to the rest of the academic year with optimism.
“The faculty are proud of our University,” said Fred Morrison, Faculty Consultative Committee chairman, at the beginning of his Friday morning report to the Board of Regents.
As committee chairman, Morrison reports to the regents before each academic term to run through accomplishments and goals in the past semester, and set goals for the next.
Morrison said the men’s basketball academic-fraud scandal has required University administrators to take “unpleasant steps.”
University President Mark Yudof significantly restructured the athletics reporting lines and announced the University would not renew contracts of four major athletics administrators Nov. 19 after an investigative report found widespread academic fraud within the men’s basketball program.
“The faculty were impressed by the thoroughness, firmness and fairness of the decisions made by President Yudof,” Morrison said.
The report also cited flaws in faculty oversight of athletics, leading Morrison’s committee to abolish the old oversight system and begin discussing a new one.
“We plan to … re-examine the role and selection of faculty representatives (to the NCAA and athletics departments) and to establish new structures within an independent-oversight responsibility,” Morrison said.
Morrison also briefly talked about faculty members implicated for changing grades for men’s basketball players.
“The FCC has censured any faculty member who is found to have willingly engaged in this misconduct. We support the administration in proceeding on a case-by-case basis to apply appropriate discipline,” Morrison said.
Yudof also spoke about other ways faculty members will be involved in further investigations of the academic fraud.
“The process for dealing with cheating can become cumbersome. … A faculty member may say, ‘I just don’t have the time to do the investigation and be harassed and cross-examined and so forth for giving a student an F rather than referring the matter centrally,'” Yudof said.
Morrison continued his remarks, describing several FCC projects in the works.
A subcommittee will look into broader issues of University academic integrity outside the men’s basketball team. The subcommittee’s report, due in February, will look at standards and procedures that faculty should follow to curb cheating.
Definitive action is expected in April, Morrison said. The committee is also exploring the use of non-faculty instructors.
“The use of nonfaculty teachers diminishes the quality of instruction in many cases,” Morrison said. “The individuals have little permanent connection to the University, little opportunity or incentive to remain current in their fields and many have limited commitment to the research and service missions of the University.”
In some cases, it might be appropriate and effective to bring more professionals into the classroom, Morrison continued.
“We are concerned about a relatively rapid shift of instructional personnel from the faculty category into this non-faculty category,” Morrison said.
The FCC will also explore faculty health-insurance coverage, which is in transition. Currently, the University’s contract with a state health plan cannot accommodate many of the University faculty and staff members’ needs. For example, domestic-partner benefits, early-retiree coverage and out-of-state coverage are poorly covered.
The committee will present the regents with issues related to the size and compensation of the University’s faculty. The University is currently ranked 25th among public-research universities in faculty pay rates.
In July, legislators approved a 3 percent faculty pay raise, but Yudof has said faculty members would need a 15 percent raise, plus inflation, to compete with top-ranked schools.
Morrison will remain FCC chairman through 2001 after he was re-elected in mid-November.
— Staff Reporter Kristin Gustafson contributed to this story.

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