Sunday, 10 December 2006

Another turn in the Auburn sham course scandal

Margaret Soltan shares some commentary on a report in Sunday’s New York Times on an investigation into grading irregularities involving Auburn scholarship athletes. Key paragraphs of the NYT report:

An internal audit at Auburn University found that a grade for a scholarship athlete was changed without the knowledge of the professor, raising the athlete’s average in the final semester just over the 2.0 minimum for graduation.

The grade, which was changed to an A from an incomplete, was one of four A’s the athlete received in the spring semester of 2003. None of the courses required classroom attendance. ...

The grade was changed without the consent of the instructor listed for the course, the sociology professor Paul Starr. He said he did not teach the course to the athlete that semester and did not recall ever meeting the athlete.

“It was a phantom student in a phantom class,” Starr said in an interview in his office this week. “The schedule was a very strange one. You don’t cook up a schedule like that yourself. There was obviously some kind of guidance and special allowances with someone who had that kind of schedule.”

Starr said he found out about the grade change, which occurred May 12, 2003, only eight days ago, when he received an e-mail message as part of the internal audit. The information systems auditor who sent the message, Robert Gottesman, said the audit had nothing to do with the sociology department or the athletic department. It is not known whether the grade changes were widespread, but other sociology department professors received e-mail messages from the auditor this week.

The e-mail message Starr received Nov. 29 said, “As part of an ongoing audit, Auburn University Internal Audit is reviewing changes made to grades where the documentation was signed by someone other than the instructor of record.” ...

Starr said that he would like to find out who had authorized the grade change but that he had heard nothing since replying to Gottesman on Nov. 30.

“I want to know more about the circumstance,” Starr said. “If credit is assigned by my name, I should know the background to it, whether it was an error or an inappropriate act, because I’m the instructor of record.”

The same week Starr received the audit notice, other professors in his department, which includes sociology, anthropology, social work and criminology, received e-mail messages from an auditor.

This does not look good, to say the least. As Margaret puts it, in a nutshell: “Are we clear about what’s going on at Auburn? People affiliated with the sports program are getting in to the university computer, adding the names of players to professors’ class lists, and assigning them A’s from those professors.”

Stories of my dead-end academic career have been mildly exaggerated

As a few readers are already aware, I learned (under highly suboptimal circumstances) that SLU has offered the tenure-track equivalent to the position I currently occupy to someone else, although it is unclear at this point whether or not said someone else will be accepting said position; it is also unclear whether I might possibly receive an offer should this offer be turned down.

The good news? Three phone interviews next week, and one more I’m very confident of getting in the near future. Some of them even at places that I’d rather be than SLU… admittedly a list that has expanded somewhat since Friday.