Damning Report on Grade Changing

Texas Tech dean quits after university panel finds he inappropriately set up system that raised several students' grades -- in violation of university procedures and behind back of professor who assigned the grades.

November 11, 2015

Jay Conover, a professor of mathematics and statistics at Texas Tech University, got quite a surprise when he learned three of his former students graduated from the business school's graduate program this year. He was surprised because he had given the students grades so low he thought they wouldn't be able to graduate. He wondered how they could have walked away with their M.B.A.s.

The university answered the question Tuesday, releasing a faculty panel's report that found the dean of the business school arranged for the grades to be changed. The dean got another professor (who didn't know why he was asked to do so) to create an alternative exam for Conover's course. Then the dean let five students take the alternative exam, and on that basis, raised the grades of four of the students, including the three whose appearance at graduation surprised their professor, and one who received his degree in August. This process violated multiple rules at Texas Tech, the report concluded.

The university announced that Provost Lawrence Schovanec, who appointed the faculty panel that reviewed the situation, accepted the report and then met with Lance Nail, dean of the business school, who then announced his resignation as dean, effective at the end of the year. Nail will retain his position as tenured professor of finance. Via email, Nail said he was preparing a response to the report, but declined to comment on Tuesday.

Because small portions of the report Texas Tech released are redacted, it's not possible to have a full picture of what the faculty panel found. But based on the report, it appears the students convinced Nail that Conover's grades were somehow unfair. The faculty panel said it did not want to get in the business of second-guessing grades, but that it nonetheless found "no evidence" that the grades were "assigned with prejudice or on the basis of arbitrary or capricious action."

But as the report notes, even if the dean or the students had reason to doubt the grades, they needed to follow an appeals process before any grades could be changed. Such a process would have, among other things, involved Conover. Texas Tech, like most colleges and universities, sets a very high bar for changing grades a faculty member has assigned.

Nail is quoted by the committee as saying that "no college grade appeals committee" could have convinced him that the grades were fair. But the panel rejected this argument. "This logic is premised on the assumption that nothing could be gleaned from an appeals board review, that only the student side of things was heard/valued and that Dr. Conover could offer nothing in his own 'defense' since he was left completely outside" the process Nail created to evaluate the students and assign them new grades.

Further, the panel said Nail appeared to have talked to colleagues about the grade changes in ways that might allow him to imply a review panel had been convened and that the dean had the right to make such grade changes. "Testimony suggests intimidation with regard to the desire on the part of Dean Nail to ex post facto claim that conversations with colleagues constituted a sufficient grade appeals board and that they should agree with this claim. Additional testimony by witnesses indicated that there may have been other intimidation tactics as well," the report says.

The report does not offer a recommendation on what to do about the four students whose grades were changed, all of whom obtained degrees in part based on the change.

Chris Cook, a spokesman for Texas Tech, said via email that "determining the conferral of these students’ degrees was not part of the scope and charge of the committee and its report. However, since the release of the report, we have begun to review the students whose grades were affected by the changes as well as the other students in the class, in order to treat all students in a fair and consistent manner and meet our academic standards."

Via email, Conover had this reaction to the report: "I am glad the dean is resigning. I am sorry that it has taken so long. I expected it last June when it became apparent that he was responsible for the grade changes. I am sorry that the dean still has not been relieved of his duties, and won’t be until Dec. 31. Also I am sorry the report did not address the remedial action necessary to redact the four bogus M.B.A. degrees awarded this summer, three in May and one in August, long after this grade changing incident was publicized. Those four students need to either return their M.B.A. degrees, or transfer in a legitimate graduate-level course in statistics."

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