The NCAA Wednesday placed the University of New Mexico on three years probation and cut five scholarships for academic violations involving two former assistant coaches. The NCAA concluded the coaches in 2004 improperly helped three recruits obtain fraudulent academic credits through FPU correspondence courses. Fresno Pacific, however, does not offer undergraduate credit for correspondence courses.
"The action of a few individuals four years ago amounts to an attack on the integrity of our university," FPU President D. Merrill Ewert said. Ewert reserved some ire for the NCAA, which in its report cautions institutions to take "due diligence" in accepting FPU courses.
This caveat comes despite the fact that the university went well beyond what was required in helping the NCAA with its investigation and that the report takes pains to distance some individuals from wrongdoing. The NCAA contacted FPU in early 2005 asking about 29 students but did not name any colleges or universities. "We did more than cooperate--we helped the NCAA catch the people who did this. I am incensed at the NCAA statements and we are protesting them officially," Ewert said. "A letter was hand-delivered to NCAA headquarters today, demanding an apology."
In its report, the NCAA says correspondence courses from FPU were misused in cases involving two other universities, as well. FPU has determined that all athletes under investigation took courses during the same time period (2004-2005) and from the same independent contractor. The contract of the instructor, who had no other connection to the university, was canceled in 2005. The NCAA report states the contractor was an acquaintance of one of the coaches involved.
The courses in question are part of a series listed in university materials as "university credit offered through the Center for Professional Development for workshops and conferences. This is post-baccalaureate; not part of a degree program."
Professional development is a valued part of FPU. "We have offered continuing education courses for 30 years as a service to teachers, administrators and others. More than 12,000 educators each year use these courses as they are intended: to advance their students' education, their careers and the education profession. In all that time, this is the first we've heard that anyone misused these courses," Ewert said.
The procedure for workshops and conferences is that a prospective instructor fills out an application and submits a resume. The instructor then submits syllabi for review by the university's workshop coordinator and approval by the academic program council, which includes the registrar, executive director of continuing education and representatives of FPU's academic schools. The university assists the instructor in marketing as necessary, and the instructor handles student registration while FPU processes payments. The instructor conducts the workshop and issues grades. Once the instructor submits the grades to FPU, the university sends students a grade report. Students can then request official transcripts from the university. Transcripts clearly identify that the course does not count toward a degree.
FPU monitors quality by visiting courses that physically meet, such as workshops and conferences. The university also regularly surveys students regarding the quality of materials and instructors and the value of courses.
"Many who teach professional development courses have been with FPU for years. Many are former or current faculty. Some are highly qualified independent instructors. None of them has dishonored the university in this way before," Ewert said.
For the majority who are honest, there are always a few who are not. "Those who want to cheat will slither through chinks in even the best systems. We have good people and strong procedures. We will continue to work to make them better," Ewert said. "We will also do everything necessary to undo the harm done to our reputation."