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An Attempt at Restoring Academic Integrity
by Silence Dogood

At Meet and Confer on October 18, 2012, the Faculty Association (FA), almost six months from the initial meeting on May 2, 2013 to discuss transcript adulterations where the evidence that a student had registered for a course is removed from their academic transcript, officially asked for the data for all “poofs” (a term coined by Provost Devinder Malhotra) granted from FY07 to FY12 including the reason for the request and the person who approved the request for removal from the transcript. The FA also asked for a committee to be formed that would include faculty to review all future drops. Provost Malhotra said that this matter was an administrative prerogative and he would not consider participation of the faculty.

The Faculty Association was later informed by the administration that the data requested was stored in multiple locations and multiple formats and would be prohibitively expensive to obtain. What the administration agreed to provide was an analysis of a representative sample of one year’s data. The administration stated that for FY 2012, there were 1,197 academic petitions submitted requesting a change in status. Data provided by John Palmer in his report of May 10, 2013 indicated that out of the 1,197 cases where academic petitions were submitted between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012 (FY12), a subset of 237 cases (19.7%) were selected for further review.

Late in Spring Semester, a copy of the original data set without identifying information was obtained. Identifying information was removed so that it would not violate FERPA (Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act). It is important to note that this data was not provided officially by the administration. Until the Palmer report, the only data provided by the administration was provided by President Potter at Meet and Confer on February 21, 2013 when he listed the number of grades that had been changed from “F” to a “W”. President Potter seemed quite pleased to cite how small a percentage these represented out of the total number of grades reported. What is curious is why President Potter was answering a question that was not asked by the Faculty Association.

At the last Meet and Confer of the year on May 2, 2013 (coincidentally the same day one year earlier that this issue had been brought to the attention of the administration by the faculty), John Palmer, who had been tasked with the process of analyzing the data, began his report with about 5 minutes left in the meeting. At 5:00 p.m., Provost Malhotra (who was chairing the meeting) said “in the interest of time what we’ll do is we’ll put this item back on the agenda for Meet and Confer next time we meet.” With Meet and Confer over, he and President Potter got up and left the room.

What is surprising about these events begins with the fact that Associate Provost Palmer has always provided a written report prior to giving his review. In this case, he was reading his report without providing a written copy. Later, it was learned that he was directed not to provide copies of the report because “the Provost had not had time to review the report.” Eventually, John Palmer’s report was forwarded to the Faculty Association on May 10, 2013.

Dr. Palmer’s report contains a large amount of information about the 1,197 academic petitions submitted and much information has been gained. Despite the disappointment of not having complete data going back to FY07, it was a beginning in good faith to understand scope of the “issue.” The administration is loath to call it a problem. However, whatever you call it, the process is certainly not complete. The administration promised information for FY13, which has yet to be shared.

On July 1, 2013, John Palmer was removed from his position as Associate Provost of Faculty Relations (something that almost everyone on campus knows but something that has yet to be announced to the campus). With John Palmer’s departure, the investigation of transcript adulterations has essentially ended without providing data for FY13. It is apparent that, in the eyes of the administration, the “issue” is closed. I guess I wouldn’t want to keep talking about disappearing grades that at first I had said was not a problem, then had admitted it was a ‘small’ problem.

Excuse me! Disappearing grades is a HUGE PROBLEM. Whether you call them ‘drops’ or ‘poofs,’ the idea that the record of registration is removed from a student’s transcript without the faculty member’s knowledge is simply unacceptable. And yes, even the administration’s own data shows that in over 30% of the cases, faculty are not consulted.

So the issue has now shifted from trying to understand the scope of the problem of disappearing grades to finding a way to create a process going forward that will insure the integrity of the faculty member’s role is assigning grades and the administration’s responsibility of maintaining a record of the grades assigned. A document was brought to the Faculty Senate on September 10, 2013 by Professor Jack McKenna, Chair of the Academic Affairs Committee:

Proposed Joint Committee on Late Withdrawals and Drops

On January 14, 2013, Provost Malhotra’s memo Re: Petition Process for Late Withdrawals and Drops lists 10 individuals as “decision makers.” John Palmer’s Summary Analysis dated May 10, 2013 lists 16 people as “Authorized Decision Maker (ADM).” Even with “guidelines” provided by Provost Malhotra, this number of individuals, whether it is 10 or 16, making enrollment transcript change decisions cannot help being inconsistent.

This spring, the Academic Policy Working Group (a joint administration/faculty advisory committee) brainstormed with Assistant Dean of University College Nancy Mills several mechanisms for dealing with late withdrawals and drops. No formal proposal as to the process was agreed to at the time. However, the suggestion was for a committee to review all late withdrawals and drops for the purpose of standardizing the process and providing consistency in the decisions being made. It was suggested that a committee of five individuals be formed for the purpose of developing a process and basis for making these enrollment decisions. A suggested makeup of the committee was suggested: Assistant Dean of University College (Nancy Mills); A Dean or Assistant/Associate Dean (selected by the administration); Director of Financial Aid (Mike Uran); Faculty Director of Advising (Steven Klepetar); and a faculty member (selected by the Faculty Senate). Additionally, a member from the Office of Records and Registration would be a non-voting ex-officio member. The committee would provide a report of summary data at Meet and Confer each term.

From the minutes of the Faculty Senate on September 10, 2013: 013 8.c.1-8.c.3)—McKenna spoke to Faculty Senate.
Motion to approve the formation of a grade change policy working group to make policy and recommendations, comprised of six members: Assistant Dean of University College, a Dean or Assistant Dean appointed by Administration, Director of Financial Aid, Faculty Director of Advising, and two faculty members appointed by Senate—(Karasik/Hubbs). Amended and passed unanimously.

Motion to change one faculty to two faculty appointed by Senate—(Hubbs/Hergert). Passed

The amended motion passed the Faculty Senate unanimously—something that does not happen too often!

The motion was presented to Provost Malhotra by FA President Steve Hornstein on Monday, September 16, 2013. The motion was also presented at Meet and Confer on October 9, 2013, where Provost Malhotra said he would respond “within ten days.” Why it should take from September 16, to October 23 to respond is a mystery to me. However, all editorial comments aside, the faculty await the Provost’s response by October 23, 2013.

There are many definitions of integrity; a popular one says that integrity is the “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.”

It’s time for the administration to step up and do the right thing. The removal of the record of registration of a student in a class is something that should not happen as a routine matter of course. It is something that should happen only in extreme circumstances. If this is not the case, then the very foundation of the academic integrity of the university is called into question.

President Potter and Provost Malhotra, form the Academic Petition Review committee and begin the attempt to restore academic integrity to SCSU.

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One Response to “Transcript silence is broken, Part II”

  • Patrick says:

    another great article from Silence Dogood (minor correction – shouldn’t it read At Meet and Confer on October 18, 2013 not 2012)

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