Grade-Changing Scandal Rocks Southern University
Former assistant registrar’s illegal actions date back to 1995By Scott Dyer
BATON ROUGE, La.
A massive grade-changing scandal is rocking Southern University’s campus, and may wind up in the revocation of some undergraduate and graduate degrees.
In all, 541 students and former students have been implicated in an illegal grade-changing scandal masterminded by a former assistant registrar.
Southern University Chancellor Edward Jackson said the former assistant registrar, who was fired last year, apparently charged students up to hundreds of dollars to illegally change each grade. The university is still trying to determine if the prime suspect had some help.
“We’ve heard talk about him having runners to solicit business,” Jackson said.
Jackson declined to name the grade-changing assistant registrar, but sources close to the investigation have identified him as Cleo Carroll. Southern University records show that Carroll held that position for years until he was terminated in 2003.
“Everybody knows who he is — one of the local television stations even ran his picture on the news,” Jackson said.
The Registrar’s Office had internal controls to prevent such abuse, according to Jackson, but they weren’t followed because other employees trusted the assistant registrar.
“You should never have anyone in position that powerful,” Jackson said.
The former registrar in charge of overseeing Carroll has been reassigned, Jackson said, and a national search is under way to fill the position. In the meantime, Jackson said he has permanently assigned an auditor from his office to oversee the registrar’s operations.
The scandal first came to light in March of 2003, when a student who had enrolled in a Southern graduate program presented credentials showing that she had earned a bachelor’s degree from that department. The department had no record that the woman had ever received such a degree, and concerned faculty members alerted the university’s auditors, Jackson said.
By tracing the code that Carroll used to change grades in the university computer system, the auditors discovered 541 students who benefited from unauthorized grade changes dating back to 1995, Jackson said.
In all, the university auditors have identified about 2,500 unauthorized transactions that Carroll made during that period, Jackson said. Many involved multiple changes to the same grade that were made last year in an apparent cover-up attempt, the chancellor said.
Southern University officials have already released a full report to the local district attorney, who has vowed to prosecute everyone involved in the scandal as vigorously as the evidence will allow.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Doug Moreau said it’s important to clean up the scandal for the sake of the Southern graduates who hold legitimate degrees.
“There are going to be Southern graduates who are concerned if there are people who are not really graduates but have degrees,” Moreau said. While Moreau is pursing criminal charges, Jackson said federal officials are already looking to see if any of the illegal grade changes were used to obtain financial aid.
“The feds will want to know if any of those grade changes affected any of the students’ ability to receive financial aid — and if they did, those students have some more problems,” Jackson said.
A federal investigator was on campus within 48 hours after news broke about the scandal. In addition, Jackson noted that the Louisiana Department of Education has requested a list of the 541 so that it can take action against any of the students that might currently hold a teaching certificate.
Before the university can revoke any of the illegally changed grades or improperly awarded degrees, it must follow a legal process aimed at giving the 541 students a chance to defend themselves.
Winston DeCuir Jr., an attorney representing the university, outlined the process that calls for an initial hearing before a panel of faculty and department heads, followed by a more formal hearing before a board of administrators.
If the grade change involved the improper awarding of a degree, then the board of supervisors will ultimately take action to revoke it at a public hearing — and the student’s name will become public at that point, DeCuir said.
Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi said his organization is eager to help with the review process, which will likely take much of the summer.
“This is not the end of the world for Southern University — we have a problem, but we are going to fix it,” Trivedi said.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com