Saturday, December 05, 2009

NY College Lowered Standards to rip off blacks

In an effort to boost tuition revenues, a State University of New York campus lowered admissions and retention standards to admit unqualified – predominately black – applicants who had little chance of graduating, according to a lawsuit filed by a former dean. Thomas J. Hickey, who filed the suit, says his removal as dean in July was retaliation for questioning financially-motivated academic policies that doomed students to failure at the SUNY College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill. The suit alleges these policies were instituted by Anne Myers, the provost, and later supported by Donald Zingale, who was named president in 2008.

The campus has historically required students to undergo an academic review if their grade point averages fall below 2.0 during their freshmen year, but Hickey says Myers lowered that standard in an overt effort to keep bringing in money from students she knew could not succeed with the minimal remediation offerings provided on campus. According to the suit, Myers sent a Dec. 2, 2008 e-mail stating that “in light of the budget, we will use a 1.0 [Grade Point Average] cut off for first semester freshmen for Academic Review.”

Myers declined to comment, and SUNY officials would not answer specific questions about the allegations. David Henahan, a SUNY spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement that “the assertions are baseless and we are confident the court will agree."

In addition to lowering standards for continuing students, the campus has employed a system since at least 1999 that is designed to admit students with insufficient credentials to perform college-level work, according to the suit. The suit cites a Myers-authored memorandum from that year that outlines the policy, although Hickey’s attorney would not provide the document to Inside Higher Ed, saying it would be inappropriate to publicly release evidence not yet provided to the court.

Hickey became dean in 2006, but it wasn’t until 2008 that he began to learn of the problems, according to Phillip G. Steck, his lawyer. “I think the faculty were very disturbed that students who are not successful in the college are being kept there, and that’s what brought the issue to Dr. Hickey’s attention,” Steck said Tuesday.

As of 2008, the three-year graduation rate for associate degree-seeking students at Cobleskill was 26 percent, and an additional 8 percent remained enrolled after three years, according to the New York State Education Department. The three-year graduation rate has declined every year since 2002, falling 11.5 percentage points over that period.

The admissions practices at the college were common knowledge among faculty, and Hickey was not the only one who expressed concern, according to Steck. In another e-mail quoted in the suit, Thomas Cronin, a physics professor, responded to Myers’s December 2008 e-mail by labeling the practices “corrupt” and even possibly “criminal."

“The list of academically and morally corrupt practices that ensue from our inability to adhere to our own standards is rather long,” he wrote. “One of our worst offenses is that we admit, and re-admit students absolutely unqualified and absolutely incapable of achieving a college degree. Many go into debt or cause their families to go into debt into [sic] order to attempt a college degree. This is an absolutely corrupt practice and it may be criminal. If we have done this to even one student, then we are guilty of a low form of corruption."

Cronin could not be reached for comment.

When Hickey confronted Myers about admissions policies that he believed had a disproportionately negative impact on black students, the provost told him “I do not care about these people,” according to the suit. Hickey and Myers are both white. The suit says Hickey repeated his concerns in an October 2008 memo, but Steck declined to provide it since it has not been submitted in court filings. Inside Higher Ed has submitted a public records request for a number of the documents referenced in the suit.

One of the most striking claims of the complaint is that “students’ academic records were falsified in order to facilitate the admission of certain African-American students to the college.” The suit provides no specific evidence to support the claim, citing “information and belief.” “Everything that is in the complaint we have some factual reason to believe is true, but obviously the admissions records are not in my office,” Steck said.

Hickey’s dismissal as dean followed an April 2009 review of his performance, but the suit suggests the review itself was an act of retaliation predestined to end in his removal. Hickey has returned to the faculty, but the complaint alleges that Myers – with the full knowledge of the president – has sought to limit his future career options. “In March, 2009, defendant Myers made false statements about Dr. Hickey that resulted in his not receiving the position of provost at SUNY Delhi even though he was the only person recommended for the position by the university’s duly constituted 16-member selection committee,” the suit states.

Actually, Hickey was not the committee’s lone recommendation, according to the chair of the search. “The president’s request was that we give her unranked three finalists after all the whole extensive search process,” said Dominic Morales, the search chair and dean of applied sciences and recreation. “Tom Hickey was one of those finalists, and that’s all I could say.”

Candace S. Vancko, the college’s president, stated that she would “call various people” to discuss the finalists, but Morales said he was unsure whether Myers was among them, much less whether she said anything negative about Hickey. “I wouldn’t touch that with a ten foot pole,” Morales said. “I have no idea.”


Public confidence in British degrees is at risk, vice-chancellors claim

Public confidence in the quality of degrees is under threat because of concerns about varying standards at universities, vice-chancellors have admitted. MPs had accused universities of “defensive complacency” and questioned whether a first-class degree from a leading institution compared with one from a former polytechnic. The number of firsts awarded has doubled in the past decade. Lord Mandelson’s office told universities recently that they must publish more information about courses, so that school-leavers can make better judgments before starting their degree.

Universities could lose public funding if they refused or gave incorrect data, higher education bodies said. A consultation has been started by the two associations that represent vice-chancellors and the Higher Education Funding Council (Hefce) into how university standards should be better regulated. It said: “Recent concerns have been raised over whether quality and standards are being maintained in the face of a mass higher education system. The issues discussed by various groups that have looked at the evidence for these concerns include contact time and study hours, plagiarism, admissions, assessment practices and external examining. “There are undoubtedly some areas that need to change, and there is a risk that public confidence in the quality of higher education could be damaged if no action is taken.”

The consultation document was written for the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), which will decide how universities will be regulated after next year. The report said that the current system had many strengths, but needed to be revised so that any concerns could be dealt with quickly and robustly. In particular it should address concerns that “standards between institutions are not comparable, or consistently applied”, it said. “There have been a number of concerns about comparability of academic standards; that is, how we ensure that degrees or diplomas at one university are not too easy, compared with awards at another university or college.”

The system of external examiners, where academics from other universities are invited to look at students’ work to check that it meets the correct standard, could also be improved, it said. The report said that other perceived problems included the use of overly technical language and jargon, and the notion that higher education was too insular in its approach to quality assurance.

The document, written by Hefce, Universities UK and Guild HE, said that there should be external scrutiny by audits of universities. The QAA will use these to judge whether universities are giving accurate and complete information on the quality of teaching and courses. Students will take a central role, acting as auditors and giving feedback. The report recommended that all audit teams contained students as equal members.

There could also be more protection for whistleblowers among university staff, who speak out about questionable practices or unfair grading. MPs on the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee criticised Manchester Metropolitan University this year for the way that it treated a lecturer, who suggested that exams were being dumbed down and that academics had been told to inflate grades. Walter Cairns, a law lecturer, claimed that he was removed from the academic board because of his complaints.


Bureaucratic waste in Britain

Britain's smallest primary school has just five pupils (and NINE teachers)

Many parents face a postcode lottery to secure their child a place in a primary school near their home. But the residents of the Derbyshire village of Hollinsclough have the opposite problem - only five children attend the local school and they are outnumbered by teachers. Nine members of staff work at Hollinsclough Primary School, thought to be the smallest in Britain.

Only two years ago 50 pupils filled the corridors, but that number has dwindled to just four boys and one girl following a substantial drop in families settling in the village. Headteacher Janette Mountford-Lees believes the children benefit from the one-to-one tuition. She said: 'We've got five pupils using the space of 50. 'When people walk in they think the school is filled with children because there is so much work on the walls, but it is all done by these five. 'The children do all the normal things, just not in the normal way.

'Some parents don't want their children coming here because they worry about their social skills, but our kids are very confident. They can't hide themselves behind a big class.'

With the head, two general teachers and specialist music, art and IT teachers, the staff provide near-private tuition. There are also three teaching assistants.

There is no football team and the pupils have to share PE with nearby Flash Primary. But they have weekly assemblies and are in the school from 9am to 3pm each weekday. The children - aged from five to ten - are taught together in a group but also have one-to-one sessions. Ms Mountford-Lees said: 'If they are enjoying something we spend a lot of time on it, but if they aren't bothered we just go on to something else. 'We get to go on lots of school trips because we can just jump in the car. 'When we went to Chelford market we bought our own food and worked out the prices together. People were amazed when they found out it was the whole school.'

The eldest pupil is 10-year-old Jorge Barna followed by Steven Bellfield, nine. Sam Scott, five, is the only pupil in the reception class. The other two pupils are a brother and sister - Sammy Wilston, nine, the only girl, and her brother Joe, six. Their mother Wendy Wilston, 38, is also a governor. She said: 'My kids love it here, I couldn't ask for anything better.'


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