Memo to the FSU Athletics Department: 'learning' and 'cheating' are not synonyms.

Somehow, the Florida State University Office of Athletic Academic Support Services had in its employ a "Learning Specialist" who seemed to think it was part of his or her job to help a bunch of student athletes cheat.

As reported by the Orlando Sentinel:

A months long Florida State University investigation into the FSU Office of Athletic Academic Support Services has determined that two faculty members during the 2006-07 school year "perpetrated academic dishonesty" among 23 FSU athletes, 21 of whom are still enrolled at the university.

University president T.K. Wetherell today shared with the Florida State Athletics Committee the findings of the internal investigation. According to FSU's report, a university "Learning Specialist" and tutor sometimes provided athletes answers to online quizzes and exams for a web-based course. The investigation also concluded that the Learning Specialist typed class assignments for the athletes. ...

The investigation began in March, when an unidentified FSU athlete came forward and admitted that he had taken a quiz for another athlete, with the assistance and approval of the Learning Specialist.

Both the Learning Specialist and the tutor in the case have resigned, Wetherell said.

Two "faculty members" caught "perpetrating academic dishonesty"? I should hope they resigned. Indeed, I hope that strongly worded letters about their involvement in this precede them, just in case they are looking to pull these shenanigans somewhere else.

And make no mistake, the people who have really dropped the ethical ball in this situation are the faculty members charged with helping the FSU student athletes get a college education. Even if the students may be fuzzy about what that might involve, any tutor, learning specialist, instructor, or coach who is the least bit unclear about what role cheating on quizzes or turning in papers written by others ought to play in learning a subject (and in learning how to be a competent independent learner) probably shouldn't be working at an institution of higher education.

Student athletes aren't just cheating; they're getting cheated. They deserve the college education they've been promised for entertaining alumni, fans, and boosters with their feats of athletic prowess. If universities aren't serious about putting up that education, let's call off the whole charade and just let the kids go pro.

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This reminds me of something I saw when I was about ten. MAD magazine, when it was still in the business of making clever social commentary, ran a one-off thing called "It ain't fair when...". One of the frames was: "It ain't fair when... some dumb jock gets three hundred scholarship offers to go to college... and the class egghead, who comes from a poor family, doesn't get one."

Seems nothing has changed.

What, if anything, happened to the students concerned? I hope they were expelled. If the coach was aware of what was going on, they also should be sacked. Yes, they're hired to coach football (or whatever sport), but they are in the business of coaching a university team, and in some cases coaching players who are only at that university because they are so good at what they do on the field. They have at least a duty of 'awareness' towards their players' academic responsibility, if not a duty of care.

By Justin Moretti (not verified) on 27 Sep 2007 #permalink

I'm not personally associated with a university, but I'm guessing that the impulse to cheat comes from the fact that some of these kids in big-time athletic programs are totally unable to handle even remedial work at the college level. Several years ago, a member of the Univ. of Maryland basketball team had a website on which he had posted an essay that he had written for one of his classes. He was apparently proud of it. The essay read like something that had been written by a child. There's no way the guy could have made it through a true college academic program. I suspect that he isn't all that unusual, at least when it comes to the big-money football and basketball programs.

Janet,

This an old story that repeats itself in numerous colleges and universities all around the country. Just like scientific misconduct, we only hear about the incidents where the culprits are caught. At the end, it is all about the money; there are millions of dollars involved in university's athletics. ADs' and coaches' salaries and bonuses (for winning) are much higher than the salary of the highest paid university president in the country. Kids out of high school who are good at football or basketball, the two most profitable sports for colleges, are usually aiming at the pro-sports, but are aware that their chances of being drafted are much greater if they play first at the college level. Education is the last thing on their minds and coaches and university officials all know that. Still they offer scholarships and stipends to these athletes because, even if they play only one season, they help filling the university's coffers.

As to faculty members who has certain reputation preceeding them, that never prevent them for being hired by another institution. I know of at least one case in particular at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, where a scientist was caught publishing fabricated data in high impact factor journals. He had to retract several of these publications, was forced out of the university and was hired in another institution where a colleague of his has became a department chairman. Moreover, this fraudster even received an endowed chair position.

By S. Rivlin (not verified) on 28 Sep 2007 #permalink

In business sometimes there is a debate about what a company is in business for. For example, is GM's business making cars, or making money. (GM is probably not a good example, but you get the idea). Here, there was the same confusion. University football programs are in the business to make money. The faculty apparently thought that their role was to help in that respect, not to help educate students. I believe that confusion exists right up the chain to the top. The two involved faculty can take home their share of the blame, but I don't want to hear any hypocrisy from anyone at FSU about their own behavior.

"Both the Learning Specialist and the tutor in the case have resigned, Wetherell said."

[Dr. F-R] Two "faculty members" caught "perpetrating academic dishonesty"? I should hope they resigned. Indeed, I hope that strongly worded letters about their involvement in this precede them, just in case they are looking to pull these shenanigans somewhere else

I understand appreciate the strongly worded sentiment, but I would suggest reading this article (Maligned and Marginalized at Tennessee, a Whistle-Blower Endures ) on the experience of Linda Bensel-Meyers. (or read her book on the subject)

In the book about her own painful journey from the university's director of composition to the target of Volunteers fans, ''Guarding the Plantation,'' she traces the ''descent of undeliberated debate into anarchy.''

...

Bensel-Meyers was dragged in, she says, when tutors who worked for her were interviewed; she spoke up to give them credibility and protection because she had tenure and they did not

I strongly suspect that the two in the Florida State case did not have tenure. So as I said - I understand and appreciate the sentiment- but the institutional pressures that these people are under is enormous.