How does a small liberal arts college in Ohio get caught up in a distance education scandal in Florida in which thousands of its credits were awarded for no work? A lot of the problem appears to be not paying attention, according to a statement released Wednesday by Otterbein College, which finds itself in this embarrassing situation.
Otterbein announced that it was revoking thousands of credits awarded to hundreds of Florida teachers, enabling some of them to receive certification, recertification or raises. The college also announced that it would donate the funds it received for the courses to a charity in Florida.
The college's involvement with the distance education programs in Florida was "inconsistent with the standards and integrity long associated with Otterbein," said a statement from Thomas C. Morrison, chairman of the college's board.
Many details about the programs and their link to Otterbein may not become clear because the official who authorized them, Dan Thompson, died in March. Thompson was associate dean for academic affairs. Otterbein's investigations are partly in response to an investigation by Katherine Fernandez Rundle, a state attorney in Miami-Dade County, Fla.
A grand jury report released this summer found numerous irregularities in the way some Miami-Dade teachers have their education credentials evaluated. Specifically, it found that William McCoggle, a former Miami teacher, created two sham entities -- the American Academy of Distance Education and Training and Move On Toward Education and Training -- through which credits were awarded to teachers for work they never did at colleges they never attended. (McCoggle could not be reached for comment.)
The grand jury report found that in this program, "There were no tests; there was no homework; there were no assignments and there were no class discussions.... There was no learning and no educational end was attained. The teachers simply paid money and later received a transcript."
As details about the scheme became public, Otterbein's board ordered an investigation by an outside law firm and an internal investigation by the director of security at Otterbein. Based on those inquiries, the college statement released Wednesday said that the college's involvement with the Florida programs was set up and administered by Thompson, "without compliance with established procedures and without the authorization or approval of any academic department."
While Thompson set up the programs, the report said, they could not have lasted for several years "without a breakdown of institutional controls." The report noted that those breakdowns took place in several college offices, but the report also noted that the president of Otterbein "was not involved in any way" with the Florida programs. The Otterbein trustees also approved a vote of confidence in C. Brent DeVore, the president, and said in a statement that the board "looks forward to his leadership in helping the college overcome this episode."
Otterbein is not the only college far from Florida to have been caught up in the scandal. William Campion quit as president of Eastern Oklahoma State College last year after his board criticized a deal he had authorized with the Florida outfits.