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University Had Early Warning of Cheating
By Tim Pugmire
March 18, 1999
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The University of Minnesota could announce this week its plans for hiring an outside firm to investigate academic fraud allegations in the men's basketball program.

Evidence of wrongdoing could bring pressure for changes in the university's academic support system, which includes the tutoring for student athletes. But internal investigations have pointed out problems in that system before. University officials made some changes, but ignored other recommendations.

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WHEN SEXUAL ASSAULT ALLEGATIONS ROCKED the University of Minnesota men's basketball program in 1986, then-president Ken Keller formed a task force to study a variety of problems in the athletic department. That panel recommended raising academic standards for student-athletes, keeping freshmen out of competition while they adjust to college life, and an end to the athletic department's operational autonomy from the rest of the university. DFL State Senator Ember Reichgott Junge, a member of the task force, says concerns were also raised about coaches getting too close to the academic counseling and tutoring of athletes.
Junge: What we came to was a consensus, that academic counseling should be separate from the coaching responsibilities, and the people that did the academic counseling should report separately to the president of the university. We felt it was very important to build a firewall between the academic counseling department and the coaching department.
The university built the firewall by directing the Athletic Academic Counseling Office to report to university administration rather than coaches. But 13 years later, a former office manager says she did tutoring work directly for the basketball program. She also claims she was paid to write papers and complete take-home exams for as many as 20 players between 1993 and 1998. Senator Junge says the allegations represent a breech of that firewall.
Junge: This was just totally contrary to what we felt as a task force was necessary to ensure academic integrity in the program.
There's been a lot of change in leadership at the U of M since 1986. Coaches, athletic directors and presidents have come and gone. In 1992, some faculty members questioned whether they had the governance and oversight control over the academic side of athletics as promised in earlier reforms. A panel was formed to study the issue, and it, too, warned about potential problems with athletic department officials getting involved in academic counseling and tutoring.

Burton Shapiro, a professor in the Dentistry and Medical schools, says the committee he headed was concerned that coaches might try to influence counselors and tutors.
Shapiro: The fact that if the main charge to an athletic program is to do as well as it can in its sport, it would be in conflict with academic requirements that may infringe on some kind of activity. Whereas, we are charged as a faculty by the Big Ten to maintain the integrity of the academics despite any athletic implications. So those two activities must be separate.
The recommendations from Shapiro's Ad Hoc Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics also included greater accountability for student-athletes to meet academic standards and development of a statement on ethical behavior and conduct for athletic department staff.

But the recommendations were never adopted. The 1992 report was shelved after hitting a procedural snag in the faculty-student governing body known as the Twin Cities Campus Assembly. Shapiro says he's not sure why the report died. But he says he doubts its implementation could have headed off the latest scandal.
Shapiro: One can have the most perfect rules and regulations, it cannot really protect an organization from criminal activity, if that's what it was, or activity that falls outside the bounds of the rules and regulations. So, there's no guarantee that had these recommendations been adopted that this alleged problem would have been avoided.
And the reality that some students are willing to commit academic fraud might be a bigger problem than organizational firewalls between offices.

Richard Lapchick, director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society, says he's seen a decline in unethical academic tinkering by colleges coaches. But he says cheating among all students is a growing problem throughout the country.
Lapchick: Some how we've had a lapse in the morality of what's ethical and what's not here in our schools across the board. It's not regional, it's not based on race, it's not based on income and it's not based on grade point average. People are simply seem to be trying to take the easiest path to achieve their goals and don't think anything about academic fraud. And this does not seem to be related to sports although it's certainly happening in sports as well.
As the University of Minnesota investigation unfolds, Senator Ember Reichgott Junge says she wants to know if the basketball allegations could be symptomatic of a larger problem. She's suggested the 1986 task force be reformed to take a new look at academic integrity and athletics. Professor Burton Shapiro says he'd like to see the campus governing body to take his 1992 report off the shelf. He says the document is as current now as it was six-and-a-half years ago.

Tim Pugmire covers education issues for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach him at