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In a letter to Chitwood written before the appeals ruling was announced, Thomas Petersen expressed concern that the investigation of professors could obscure important issues at stake in the Johnson case. According to his letter, a copy of which was acquired by New Times, Petersen was also troubled by the negative message a reduced penalty would send to athletes and the Undergraduate Honor Council. "To mitigate the [honor council] disposition in a way that would render Andre Johnson eligible to play football, unless precedent existed for such a mitigation, would certainly be perceived by myself and others as favoritism extended to a student-athlete," Petersen wrote. "I feel at this point that maintaining the integrity of the honor code process is the highest priority."
The appeals committee met on February 26. It consisted of vice president for student affairs Patricia Whitely, vice provost Perri Lee Roberts, and student government president José "Pepi" Diaz. Following procedural rules, Sandler was to provide a written summary of the honor-council hearing, and a member of that panel was there to answer questions. Presumably the committee also questioned Johnson, though that has not been confirmed.
This was the wide receiver's last chance. There was no further appeal. His fate, and his team's prospects for next season, lay with these three people.
Previous UM honor councils and appeals committees had dealt harshly with plagiarism, including full-year suspensions and even expulsion. Comprehensive information, however, was not made available to New Times; the university provided only limited records from 2001. Those records included five plagiarism cases in which one student was suspended for both the fall and spring semesters and three barred from the fall semester. One student was suspended for the summer.
After deliberating late into the night, Whitely, Roberts, and Diaz delivered their verdict. Andre Johnson would play football next season.
His reduced penalty: no summer school. (It is not known if Johnson had even planned to attend UM's two short summer sessions.) In addition the panel decided the star athlete must complete workshops on "values education" and "proper [research] citation" when he returns to school this fall.
The next day a group of Johnson's teammates were cagey about the case. A dozen of them sat on benches along a campus sidewalk. "Suspended for what?" bluffed one.
"They already had the hearing," contradicted another.
"Are you with the KKK?" snarled linebacker Carl Walker, a 6-3, 199-pound linebacker from Jacksonville. "You're not supposed to be walking around here talking to football players," he scolded. "The truth stays with us."
When New Times contacted Tomás Jimenez, UM's director of athletic academic services, he denied that the honor council had ever suspended the wide receiver. "It's just a rumor," he insisted. "No validity to it whatsoever. But let me get you down to the sports-information department."
Doug Walker, an athletic-department spokesman, said no one there could comment on the case or any issues related to it. As of press time, Johnson had not responded to an interview request, but he did show up for the first day of spring practice this past Monday. Coach Coker was impressed. "Johnson looked especially good," he told the Miami Herald at the conclusion of practice.
"I think these athletes are being used in the most awful way," lamented the tenured professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. "Ultimately these athletes are not dumb. If they can learn a 450-page playbook, they can certainly learn Biology 101. But they are encouraged to stay away from professors who would really challenge them academically."
The senior communications student added that most college football players don't end up as professional athletes. "What happens when their sports careers are over and they don't have an education?" he asked. "They end up with a bum knee, working at a car dealership."