Friday, May 23, 2014

Jail for Grade-Fixing!

By Professor Doom

     Mainstream news sure is a funny thing; questions don’t get asked, and you’re very lucky to get even the facts. Despite being a typical mainstream news piece, the following is well worth consideration:

    The highlights are simple enough. A college administrator was changing the grades of students, turning F students into A- students (this goes a long way to explaining why A- is now the median grade in college), allowing them to get those all-important degrees. He would forge faculty signatures to facilitate the grade changes.

     I’ve mentioned before that going to admin is the thing to do when failing (it’s good, albeit corrupt, advice that could have come from Machiavelli himself, I admit), but this is a little over the top.

     The article makes it clear the administrator wasn’t taking bribes to make the changes (one might conjecture the salary these guys get is pretty much an “advance bribe” to make sure students do well). The article does a poor, poor job asking the question why he did it.
      He’d been at the institution well over a decade, so it’s a safe bet that this sort of thing had been going on for quite some time. The administrator has little to say in his own defense:

“They did not like the way I was doing my job, and we mutually agreed I should leave,”

     His job, apparently, was to make sure students got their degrees no matter what. He says there was no pressure from above, but I find that claim preposterous. I’ve worked for over 20 years in higher education, and at most institutions the pressure from above to pass students no matter what is, simply, relentless.

     Incidentally, he wasn’t fired right away; he stayed on the payroll long enough to cash in his sick and vacation days. That’s amazing; even if not convicted of job-related fraud, faculty lose that sort of stuff immediately when they’re fired, and they’re fired immediately. 

     Letting him stay employed long enough to for that shenanigans is a clear message that the administration of the school approved his actions.

     It is, of course, completely impossible for this level of fraud to only have a single person involved; I suspect the administrator’s unwillingness to implicate others or claim he was pressured into committing fraud is merely assisting the cover-up, with vacation and sick leave as a reward. His immediate supervisor also left the school:

     In my research, it’s jaw-dropping how often an administrator involved with fraud, even if fired, has no trouble landing another plum position somewhere else. As I mentioned before, the only other fields where fraud and incompetence doesn’t disqualify you from future work in the same field are banking and politics.

     For his fraud, the administrator will get 6 months in jail, and 5 years’ probation. I figure a better than 99% chance that when he gets out, he’ll get another plum position in higher education, since nobody will ask the questions that need to be asked here.
Me, at graduation: “ I have no idea who that person is. Did you pass that student?”

Faculty: “Nope.”

Me: “Is there someone else besides you and me teaching the courses it says she passed, to graduate?”

Faculty: “Nope, but I know better than to ask questions.”

--I grant my memory for faces and names is far from perfect, but I really started to hate going to graduations at one school, which was just too small for so many students to have slipped through the cracks. Asking questions got me in some trouble there, I concede.

    Only 15 students were specifically mentioned in this case (I repeat, this admin was there for over a decade, so I bet there were quite a few more students involved). Despite the fraud, none of the students will lose their degree. Lucky them, though I honestly believe this sort of thing cheapens the value of the degrees the legitimate students, if any, receive.

     Let’s talk about the money involved here. The article helpfully says that the program the students were in could cost nearly $75,000 per student. Hmm. Times 15, that’s well past a million bucks. Much like in banking, just a few forged signatures are necessary to procure that kind of money.

     But no, the administrator says he wasn’t paid extra to help those (and other) students, and the article doesn’t dare suggest that there was some financial benefit to the administrator for passing those students.

     Despite the fraud, the school remains fully accredited. In fact, it will not even get a second look from accreditation. Of course. Accreditation has no means to even discover fraud like this, so can’t be expected to penalize a school engaging in such fraud. This is why, time and again, I stress that the way to at least start fixing higher education is to make accreditation something besides a fraud and a joke.

     I wish this case would set a real precedent in higher education. Churning out worthless degrees for bogus and/or non-existent coursework is actually quite common in higher education today, and the administrators involved should probably be the ones looking over their shoulder, instead of the minimally paid adjuncts who are under constant pressure to pass everyone, lest they be fired and have the grades changed by administration anyway.

     A man can dream, right?


  1. I've had that sort of thing happen to me personally.

    The institution I used to teach at had a policy that if a student got a mark between 47 - 49%, he or she would automatically be bumped up to 50%. If they got between 40 and 46%, they were eligible for a supplementary exam, but they had to ask the instructor for it. Usually, most such requests were granted.

    I had 2 students in a course I taught one year fall into the latter category. One, before leaving for summer break, asked me if he could write the exam and if there was any way he could study for it. I lent him one of my textbooks and said I'd see him at the beginning of the next term.

    He came back at the end of the break, returned my book, and gleefully said he didn't need to write the exam because he "passed" the course. Presumably, the other student did as well. In other words, they were given at least 4% free of charge by someone higher than me in authority. The only one who could have done that was my department head.

    It wasn't the first time something like that apparently happened. I heard a story about an instructor who taught our students a certain service course. According to what someone told me, the department head examined the marks sheet and proceeded to change any "unfavourable" grades--in the presence of that instructor. The latter didn't do anything because it wasn't his responsibility any more.

    My department head got away with that nonsense because he was protected through being politically well-connected at the institution. There was hardly anything he wasn't allowed to get away with. Of course, nobody ever mentioned the word "corruption".....

  2. That's what makes the article so special: we all know this goes on regularly. It's like suddenly going to jail for going 71 mph on a 70 mph highway.