Punt

That's what UM administrators did rather than answer questions about athletes and academics

Seven members of the University of Miami's faculty senate are investigating the controversial cheating case of a star football player whose penalty was later altered in a way that will allow him to play this fall, as the Hurricanes defend their national championship. "I have asked the athletics committee [of the senate] to talk with the appropriate people in the administration about the allegations that have appeared in the press and report to the senate on what it finds," says biology professor Steven Green, chairman of the faculty senate. The academic body is expected to hear from the committee at its April 24 meeting.

The cheating case, first reported by New Times ("End Run," March 7), involved a plagiarism complaint by adjunct professor Thomas Petersen against Andre Johnson, the wide receiver who was a co-MVP in the Hurricanes' Rose Bowl victory this past January. Petersen, a retired Miami-Dade juvenile court judge, charged the sophomore with submitting a plagiarized final-exam paper for Sociology 370, Juvenile Delinquency, in mid-December. In a letter to the Undergraduate Honor Council, the student group that reviews cases of alleged academic dishonesty, Petersen emphasized that three months earlier he had caught Johnson and two other football players cheating on an exam in a different sociology course. Petersen wrote that he had attempted to handle the first incident quietly. He contacted Hurricanes head football coach Larry Coker, who, according to Petersen's complaint, promised to discuss the problem with his players.

A five-student panel heard the case on February 19 and suspended Johnson for a full school year, apparently sidelining him for the upcoming football season. But one week later an appeals committee composed of two administrators and one student reduced the suspension to UM's two 25-day summer sessions, thus enabling Johnson to play with the team in the fall. Some faculty members reacted with dismay, including a tenured arts and sciences professor who asserted that it was just the latest example of an athletic program with too much influence over academic departments.

Biologist Steven Green, UM faculty senate chairman, has picked up the ball in response to the Johnson case
Steve Satterwhite
Biologist Steven Green, UM faculty senate chairman, has picked up the ball in response to the Johnson case
Andre Johnson savored the Rose Bowl trophy in January, but an academic penalty flag would soon be thrown
AP/Wide World Photo
Andre Johnson savored the Rose Bowl trophy in January, but an academic penalty flag would soon be thrown

The flap erupted while University of Miami president Donna Shalala was at the Big East basketball tournament in New York on March 7, cheering for the Hurricanes. A followup story by the Miami Heraldreported that the following week Shalala "would address the issue of academics and athletics at length with the Herald." New Timesalso sought an interview with the university president.

Shalala spent March 12 with UM's national championship football and baseball teams as they visited President George W. Bush at the White House. Then she was off to watch the Hurricanes lose to Missouri in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament in Albuquerque.

In response to New Times's request for interviews with Shalala and other UM administrators to discuss the subject of athletics and academics, the university issued this statement: "New Times chose to publish confidential information concerning a student. Federal law protects the privacy of student records. We decline to participate in a story on this matter." The federal law is the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as the Buckley Amendment. It prohibits the release of a student's education records without his or her permission.

Like Shalala, UM athletic director Paul Dee elected to treat the subject of athletes and scholarship as a confidentiality issue involving one particular student. The South Florida Sun-Sentinelquoted Dee as saying, "I can't confirm or deny it. The federal law prohibits me from commenting on it and you from writing it."

A sociology department source familiar with the Andre Johnson case denounces the university's evasiveness: "This business of secrecy, using the holier-than-thou position and saying this is all about the Buckley Amendment and protecting Andre Johnson's confidentiality, really becomes a way to protect the administration."

Shalala's reluctance to discuss academics and athletics does not surprise some professors who worked with her when she was chancellor of the University of Wisconsin in the late Eighties and early Nineties. She was an ardent sports booster in Madison, where she is widely remembered for resurrecting a moribund football program. After the Badgers finished 1-10 in 1988, she hired athletic director Pat Richter, who brought on a new head coach, Barry Alvarez. Five years later his team posted a 10-1-1 record, followed by a Rose Bowl win.

She also left an impressive fundraising legacy at UW, raising $400 million for the university's endowment fund and another $225 million to improve and expand the school's research facilities.

But Shalala's athletic agenda disturbed some UW professors. "Dr. Shalala ran into conflict with the faculty senate over the emphasis she put on the big-money sports," recalls Anatole Beck, a UW mathematics professor who was a faculty senator during Shalala's tenure. (He currently is a visiting professor at the London School of Economics.) The conflict, Beck explains, resulted from Shalala's decision to cut athletic scholarships for fencing, gymnastics, and baseball. "The ostensible reason for having an athletic program at all at a university is the supposed instruction in self-discipline, team spirit, and cooperation it gives to genuine scholars," Beck maintains. "It is an open secret that the big-money sports are not instructional but merely a way of providing money for the university and entertaining alumni and students."

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