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BU academic concerns raised by 'Trib' report

Jan. 21, 2004

By Sandi Villarreal, reporter

Several areas of concern for Baylor, including incidences of grade changing and possible loss of accreditation, have been brought forth by the Waco Tribune-Herald.

The paper has obtained a copy of the 90-page document composed by the executive committee of the Faculty Senate in October listing the grievances voiced by members of faculty.

According to Dr. Gregory Benesh, Baylor's ombudsman and physics professor, investigations into the grade-changing allegations began long before the Tribune-Herald gained knowledge of the situation.

'If the document the newspaper has is the same one given to the regents in October, then these issues are really old news,' Benesh said. 'The regents have been looking into these allegations for months and will give their findings at their February meeting.'

The allegations involve Dr. Jim Tipton's commercial banking class and 12 students who reportedly committed honor code violations. According to an article printed in the Tribune-Herald, the section of the document entitled 'Academic and Faculty Leadership Issues at Baylor University' included an e-mail from Tipton to Dr. Eric Rust, member of the Faculty Senate executive committee and history professor.

'I did not agree with the grade changes because I viewed them as honor violations,' Tipton wrote, as printed in the Tribune-Herald. 'The administration views them as academic infractions. I told them at the time that I had trouble with their position. My two points were fairness and integrity.'

Dr. David L. Jeffrey, provost and vice president for academic affairs, announced in his spring faculty meeting address, Jan. 13 that the grade- change policy was revised in accordance with the American Association of University Professors.

The new policy says the professor is the sole proprietor of grades, he or she must distribute grades according to each student's true merit and the student must be protected from 'prejudiced or capricious academic evaluation.'

Tipton could not be reached for comment. According to the Tribune-Herald, another issue is the possible loss of accreditation due to violations of the policies of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The alleged violations stem from two areas, one dealing with professors' academic freedom and another with the university's declining admission rates.

Following September's vote of no-confidence handed down by the Faculty Senate, Dr. Charles Weaver, former chairman of the Faculty Senate, commented that some faculty, especially those without tenure, fear the loss of their jobs, salary freezes or lack of promotion if they don't comply with certain requests from the administration.

The concern, as named in the posted list of grievances released in September, is the 'fear and hesitation to report grievances in the face of expected retribution.'

According to SACS guidelines, an institution accredited by the organization must maintain 'adequate procedures for the safeguard and protection of academic freedom.'

Another issue in the posted list of grievances and the document that may pose a problem with SACS is the apparent decline of enrollment combined with an increase admittance of provisional students. The percentage of students who do not meet the academic standards as far as class rank and SAT/ACT scores has jumped from 5 percent last year to 14 percent of the current freshman class, Weaver said in September.

Following the release of the grievances, David Brooks, vice president for finance and administration, said that although the rise in percentage of provisional students may be perceived as a move to bring in more tuition money, admittance standards have risen dramatically as well. Students who are now classified as provisional would have gained regular admittance in previous years due to the change in standards, Brooks said.

Whether this is a violation of the SACS guidelines is unclear due to its change in standards as of 2004. The new requirements are much broader than the old rules and state that the institution 'publishes admissions policies consistent with its mission,' and 'publishes academic policies that adhere to the principles of good educational practice.'

'Be assured that academic standards at Baylor have not declined,' Jeffrey said in an e-mail to faculty members. 'Despite the inclusion of provisional students, our SATs remain at levels higher than they were in the 1990s and, in this particular year, remain as high or higher than in most previous years as well.'

Jeffrey sent the e-mail to all faculty members Tuesday in response to the allegations of possible accreditation loss.

'I want to assure all colleagues that, based on the facts at hand, there is no risk of this happening,' the statement read. 'We are in good standing with SACS and have not been contacted regarding the quality of our curricula, programs or procedures.'

Rust declined to comment, but released a statement adopted by the Faculty Senate executive committee expressing regret at the report reaching the press.

'We had agreed with the regents' committee that the report remain confidential until further notice,' the statement read. 'We do not know whether the leaked copy is identical with the report we shared with the regents.'

According to Jeffrey, the document was only available to himself, the executive board of the Faculty Senate and the regents' review committee.