"What about Michigan?"

Academic fraud at the University of Michigan


ARR: Okay. Let's look at another Div IA school, Michigan. There, during the presidency of Mary Sue Coleman, the Ann Arbor News did a prize-winning investigative series showing that many Michigan football players were being kept eligible by taking "independent studies" with one John Hagen, a psychology professor. The newspaper had a picture of him sitting directly behind the bench at a Michigan home game.

Dr. Emetic: Are you trying to suggest that there's anything wrong with giving sideline seats to professors who enjoy football?

ARR: Not at all. But it did turn out that this professor had taught 294 independent studies in one three-year period. As you know, these are "personal," one-on-one courses with a professor who awards the student 3 credits and decides on a grade. In Hagen's case, 85 per cent of these independent studies, 251, were with athletes.

Dr. Emetic: My goodness. Did Hagen realize that so huge a percentage of his independent study course roster was athletes?

ARR: Actually, he began by trying to deny it. He didn't realize that the reporters had gotten access to the transcripts.

Dr. Emetic: (shocked) But what about student privacy? The Buckley Amendment?

ARR: There was no violation of student privacy. Their source had blanked out student names. The transcripts simply showed the name of the professor and indicated which belonged to a "student athlete."

Dr. Emetic: My goodness.

ARR: Perhaps you see why we're a bit perplexed. Suppose that a Div IA school has "compliant" professors who are willing to launder athletes' grades -- "independent study" courses with no work and a guaranteed "A." Suppose that players pile up a huge number of credits with these professors.

Take Hagen's case, for instance. At least 48 athletes took two or more "independent study" courses with him. Nine had taken three or more. On that year's Michigan football team, 22 players had taken "independent study" courses with Hagen. Most got A's. None received a grade lower than B.

You, Dr. Emetic, keep insisting that Div IA players are real college students. But suppose there's a Michigan player who reads and writes at a 3rd-grade level, and who takes an "independent study" with a compliant faculty member. It involves no outside reading. There are no tests. It requires no written work. The entire "course" consists of one 20-minute conversation with the professor at the beginning of the term. For this, the player gets an B+, plus 3 credits on his transcript.

Doesn't this explain why so many skeptics say the APR is an empty public relations ploy?

Dr. Emetic: I keep trying to tell you, it's a procedure. The NCAA doesn't care whether or not the athlete is answering questions about a 3-point goal or taking some fake course with a professor who wants to suck up to football players. It's progress. We measure progress.

ARR: Just bear with us, Dr. Emetic. We know this is frustrating, but you've got to realize that there are people out there in America who might be taking this "APR" business seriously. The schools who get high APR rankings trumpet them to the skies. People might get misled. Just bear with us. You're doing a public service here.

Dr. Emetic: (somewhat mollified) All right. But I don't like it.

ARR: Dr. Emetic, in the Ann Arbor News series, it also turned out that a large number of athletes were piling up credits by taking classes in the Native American language Ojibwe, usually for grades of A or B.

Dr. Emetic: What's wrong with that? You got something against Native Americans?

ARR: To the contrary, Dr. E. We think that in an age of creeping globalization, it's tremendously important that our remaining regional and native languages be studied and preserved.

Dr. Emetic: So what's wrong with football players taking Ojibwe? Isn't that "preserving a native language"?

ARR: The problem, Dr. Emetic, is that these football players didn't learn Ojibwe.

Dr. Emetic: You can't be serious.

ARR: We're serious. One player was taking a "general studies degree" that let him pile up credits by taking lots of film and video courses plus independent study courses with the "football friendly" psychology professor. He also took four courses in Ojibwe. He got two A's, an A-minus, and a B.

Dr. Emetic: Hah! So how do you know he didn't know any Ojibwe?

ARR: Because a News reporter asked him to explain what Ojibwe was.

Dr. Emetic: (warily) You mean, simply to explain that Ojibwe was a Native American language?

ARR: Yes.

Dr. Emetic: (warily) What did he answer?

ARR: The player said "I don't know. I didn't need the language requirement. I just took the class."

Dr. Emetic: I think I know what your question is going to be.

ARR: No doubt. The four Ojibwe courses this player took would, presumably, have earned him 12 academic credits. His grades would have given him an "honors" level performance in those courses.

So: the question. Does the NCAA's APR scheme award this player the same number of points as he would have gotten if, for instance, he'd been an accomplished Latinist taking courses in Virgil or Cicero or Tacitus?

Dr. Emetic: Look, can't you get it through your head that the APR measures PROGRESS and not the CONTENT of an individual's education. How hard is that to understand?

ARR: (gently) Calm down, Dr. E. We mean no harm. There was a point to our last example. Don't you realize that this player who got an A-minus average in four Ojibwe course DIDN'T MAKE ANY PROGRESS IN LEARNING OJIBWE? So how can you pretend that the APR "measures progress"?

Dr. Emetic: (truculently) How do you know the player didn't make progress in Ojibwe?

ARR: (patiently) Because the player said that he didn't even understand what Ojibwe was. Other players, asked to say something in Ojibwe, couldn't come up with a single word or phrase in the language. Yet some of them had taken two or three courses and gotten A's or B's. Do you honestly want to call that "progress"?



For context, see "The APR Fig Leaf"