Tennessee: Events, allegations and memos
Concerns about academic fraud at the University of Tennessee, and the monitoring
of the benefits provided by the athletic department, go back thirteen years:
In part to accommodate athletes' practice schedules, Linda Bensel-Meyers, head of
composition for the English Department, and Carmen Tegano, head of the academic
services unit for men's athletics, agree to create a satellite tutoring facility in the
athletic department. The arrangement allows players to take a one-credit English
writing lab there under the supervision of an instructor approved by the English
UT faculty senate passes conflict-of-interest resolution requesting that its members
who serve on boards monitoring the athletic department no longer receive tickets,
airfare and lodging at road games, watches, clothing and other gifts from the athletic
Phil Fulmer replaces Johnny Majors as head coach of football team.
Fulmer signs what is considered to be the top recruiting class in the nation, the last
of whose players would go on to compete for the 1998 team and win the national
May: Dan Deffenbaugh, a Religious Studies instructor who has suspected that tutors
are doing too much work for athletes, informs Tegano that a football player has turned
in the same paper that was turned in by teammate John Sartelle a year earlier. Tegano
responds in a memo that "these papers were copied from files on our computers'
directories. In the past, we have removed these files once a semester." He says the
hard drives will now be erased once a week, per university policy. Deffenbaugh, who
suspects that one-third of all papers turned in by athletes are plagiarized in some form,
is pleased with Tegano's response. Still, partly because of the athletes, he requires all
of his students in future classes to do all writing assignments in class.
Fall: Bensel-Meyers threatens to bring charges of institutional plagiarism against the
athletic department after contending that several athletes submitted papers that were
"either co-written or entirely written by (tutors) hired by" the athletic department. The
problem comes to light when a freshman football player, Spencer Riley, turns in a paper
that was allegedly co-written by Lois Prislovsky, a graduate assistant who was working
with athletes diagnosed with learning disabilities. Bensel-Meyers also cites "verbal and
physical disrespect" of tutors by athletes, and wonders whether class credit should be
given for the athletes-only English class due to a lack of control by the English department. Tegano responds by hiring an English Department instructor, Robin Wright, and gives her authority over Writing Center tutors.
Nov. 6: Former athletic department tutor Dale Bailey resigns, citing academic and physical abuse by players. In a letter to Gerry Dickey, coordinator of academic programs in the athletic department, Bailey writes that he witnessed two incidents of academic improprieties, including one situation in which freshman football player Chad Clifton had an unnamed female tutor write his paper from Clifton's oral dictation without the standard rough draft. He also says that one unnamed player pushed him and another verbally abused him.
Prislovsky completes UT doctorate and is hired as Director of Special Needs Program in the athletic department. In that role, Prislovsky assists athletes who have disabilities -- learning, psychological, and physical -- or are "at risk" students in need of remediation skills.
Spring: Wright sends to tutors an addendum to the athletic department's Tutor Guidebook
and says athletes must use tutors in her department, the Writing Center, on all English papers. She also states that tutors in other subjects must not work with an athlete on his grammar, proofreading and editing -- that they need to turn the athlete overr to Writing Center tutors at that point since they are better trained on what constitutes excessive collaboration. She also declares that no tutor should type or write any part of a student-athlete's essay because of the potential for abuse.
Jan. 29: Bensel-Meyers writes memo in response to a Faculty Senate Executive Committee finding that the athletic department was performing admirably in its interactions with the academic side of the university. She contends that although there appear to be fewer problems with plagiarism involving tutors and athletes in English classes due to changes made a year earlier, there still is not proper monitoring of the tutoring in other subjects. She says those tutors still have little or no training and that she worries about "overzealous tutoring and careless transgression of (the school's) honor code." She includes a memo detailing the issues that arose two year's earlier.
June 11: Tegano writes memo to Bensel-Meyers saying that the changes made since 1995 to "guard against any type of plagiarism" have been successful and gives credit to the addition of Wright. He also lauds her for creating a program that will have seen all 36 scholarship athletes pass their freshman English classes within the first year. He writes, "Now granted, completing freshman English in two semesters is probably the natural order of business for all incoming freshman, however, this is uncharted waters for our bunch."
Jason Trahan, a tutor working with learning disabled players, is fired after Wright suspects that Trahan at least co-wrote a paper for a player. Wright said the player admitted that Trahan "typed" his paper for him at the player's home, which is another athletic department violation because tutors are required to do all tutoring in the athletic offices unless given approval. A later memo from the athletic department to Bensel-Meyers states that Trahan was fired for fraudulent billing, not academic dishonesty.
March 19: In a memo to athletic department tutors, Wright says that it has come to her attention that "some tutors have been actually helping to write the papers side-by-side with the student athlete in front of the computer." Among the tutors she later says she was referring to is Victoria Gray, who works with learning disabled athletes. She reminds them that such activity constitutes excessive collaboration and is a rules violation.
August: Wright promoted to Coordinator of Academic Programs, which includes responsibility for most of the athletic department tutors, rather than just those who help on English papers. Among those she says were not under her direct supervision: tutors for the learning disabled, who report to Prislovsky, and longtime tutor Ron Payne, who reports to Tegano, because she says Tegano refused to let Wright get rid of him.
Aug. 19: Wright writes in an email message that goes to Prislovsky and Gerry Dickey, her boss, that she discovered a "definite case of excessive collaboration" involving a sophomore defensive tackle (who has since left Tennessee). Wright, who has on file athletes' in-person writing samples and compares them to the papers turned in by athletes, contends that a paper written by the player was "far too polished" for him to have completed. She says tutor Chris Bumpus, when confronted by Wright, acknowledged that he "typed" it as the player told him the ideas. She says Bumpus was contrite and was unaware that he had broken department rules.
Sept. 9: Wright sends memo to Dickey expressing her continuing objections to Payne's "tutoring methods." She writes that since Tegano has made it clear to her that he is unwilling to stop using Payne, she does not want to be responsible for Payne. She says other English tutors also object to "Ron's spoon-feeding answers to players" and "his constant interruptions of legitimate tutoring sessions." She writes that she has requested to Tegano that Payne tutor in another building to avoid those interruptions.
Fall: Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey promotes Tegano to Associate Athletic Director for Student Life, with little change in his duties. He oversees all academic planning, advising, tutoring, career development and other services for male student-athletes.
Oct. 19: Wright sends memo to Tegano about Roderick Moore, a graduate assistant and former small-college football player responsible for monitoring the study hall. She writes that, without permission, Moore was helping a freshman linebacker and other football players complete their papers. She also writes that an instructor is accusing the linebacker of plagiarism and has already written a letter of misconduct. She writes that Moore also, without permission, hired a tutor for a freshman defensive back in math, and that the tutor, a member of the Tennessee dance team, admitted to her that she had gone to his classes and taken notes -- both a "clear violation of rules." She said that when questioned, Moore tried to physically intimidate her by standing over her in her office and saying, "If they don't get the help they want over here, I'm going to help them with their English papers." In the memo, she laments that "freshman think the tutors should do the work for
them." Later, she says, Gerry Dickey tells her Moore has taken over responsibility for the hiring of mentors but that Wright should still handle the paperwork.
Oct. 19: Wright sends note to all tutors in her group reminding them that "no one is supposed to work on the actual final drafts of papers with the athletes except Writing Center tutors."
Oct. 26: Shannon Hays, a mentor who works with football players two hours a night in the mandatory study hall, quits her job for personal reasons. She says she is also disappointed with the study hall atmosphere, in which players are allowed to spend most of their time "bantering like preschoolers" rather than working on their studies.
Oct. 28: Wright sends email to Prislovsky saying that Gray, who works with learning disabled athletes in Prislovsky's group, is "getting out of hand" and "essentially doing ALL the work on the papers for these guys. She's out there now doing" a baseball player's "paper while he sits near and looks around and visits. This has got to stop. I have a roomful of tutors out there who are watching her plagiarize that paper and all my talk of academic integrity ain't worth a shit. She has gotten bolder and bolder till she is essentially taking their classes for them." The note is copied to Gerry Dickey.
Oct. 30: Wright sends another email to Prislovsky about Gray, this time because she believes Gray helped a center on the football team plagiarize a paper that Wright read. "The paper I just saw, in the hands of anyone else, would bring this program down and I've worked too hard to build an amicable relationship with the English dept to let her screw it up," she writes.
Dec. 11: Wright sends email to Gerry Dickey and Tegano saying that two nights earlier she caught Jenai Brown, a mentor with football players, typing a paper for a freshman receiver in violation of athletic department rules. In the memo, Wright says that the athlete's instructor just called to say that the paper is "copied from something" and that she will allow him to re-do it.
Dec. 18: Wright writes memo to Tegano saying that, per their discussion, Brown will no longer be working for Student Life in any capacity next semester. Brown, she says, was dismissed after being observed typing an athlete's English paper in the Student Life area, despite "repeated warnings against helping with English papers." Brown had no written paper to work from, she writes, which constitutes excessive collaboration.
Jan. 4: Tennessee beats Florida State 23-16, completes 13-0 season and wins national championship.
Jan. 6: Wright writes letter to Fulmer and explains why she has resigned to take a job as Director of the Academic Assistance and Resource Center at Stephen F. Austin State University. She cites the higher salary in her new job, and says she was frustrated with the "lack of respect" she got in the UT athletic department. She says she was "prevented from developing the top-notch academic program that I am capable of creating here." She places the letter on Fulmer's desk, to ensure delivery.
Feb. 8: At the request of Tegano, Prislovsky and acting athletic department Writing Center director Georgia Caver respond to concerns raised by Bensel-Meyers about the status of tutors that Wright said were guilty of excessive collaboration. They write in a memo that Gray was not re-hired because of "personality conflicts and ineffective use of time." They write that Trahan was dismissed because of fraudulent billing, not academic dishonesty. They write that Brown's status is pending but acknowledge that she was "apparently informally accused" of "inappropriate activities."
Feb. 15: Bensel-Meyers sends memo to Tegano reiterating her concern about "assistance given to students in the preparation of their written work for any course at UT, particularly because assistance by untrained tutors can so easily transgress into the realm of 'excessive collaboration' -- i.e. plagiarism." She calls for Caver to oversee all writing assistance in the athletic academic unit, not just that related to English classes. She writes that Prislovsky, who supervises the tutors who work with learning disabled players, is not qualified to determine what is "acceptable writing assistance" and should be removed from that role.
April: A Tennessee Faculty Senate study of all athletes' grades finds that 28 percent of the 162 scholarship and walk-on athletes -- or 45 players in total -- had a cumulative GPA of less than 2.0 when the team was pursuing a national championship the previous fall. The senate encourages the athletic department to take unspecified "additional measures" to improve the academic success in sports such as football.
April 26: The Tennessee Faculty Senate executive committee hears faculty complaints that members may not have honored the 1991 resolution requesting that committee members not accept tickets and other perks from the athletic department.
June 24: Tennessee received its fifth American Football Coaches Association Academic Award since 1989, for graduating 70 percent of its football recruits. The study, which unlike the NCAA's own survey does not count players who transferred from Tennessee in good academic standing, covers the recruiting class of 1993-94. UT is one of only 25 Division I colleges to receive the honorable mention award this year.
July: With Wright gone, the athletic department's Tutor Guidebook is amended by removing some of the 1996 safeguards that Wright put in place to prevent plagiarism. From now on, any tutor -- not just those trained by the English department -- is allowed to assist players in grammar and use of transitions, and to help the athlete learn to proofread and edit the paper. Unlike Writing Center tutors on the main campus who work
with regular students, athletic department tutors are also once again permitted to type papers for athletes.
Aug. 1: Amid hopes that he will raise new funds for a university hit with budget restrictions, J. Wade Gilley becomes the new president of the University of Tennessee, succeeding Joseph E. Johnson, who retired. In his role as head of a statewide collection of public universities, Gilley has ultimate authority for athletics on the Tennessee campus.
Sept. 14: University of Tennessee associate general counsel Ron Leadbetter receives documents and memos written by Wright that show she witnessed and suspected incidents involving plagiarism and improper tutoring in the athletic department. The school takes no action before the Sept. 18 Florida game against the players cited in the memos.
Sept. 25: In the hours before the Memphis game, after learning that ESPN.com was about to publish a report detailing the existence of the internal memos, Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey rules ineligible four football players pending the preliminary results of the school's investigation. The school says it notifies the Southeastern Conference of the situation.
Sept. 26: ESPN.com publishes its report on the memos and the concerns raised by English Department and other campus faculty about plagiarism in the athletic department. Carl Asp and Malcolm McInnis, who monitor NCAA rules compliance issues for Tennessee, say they never were made aware of the memos and that school procedure was broken because Tegano and other athletic department officials never passed them on to them for investigation at the time.
Sept. 27: Doug Dickey says he was unaware of the memos until Sept. 25. Gilley announces to the public that university lawyers are looking into what he terms "rumors and allegations" of wrongdoing.
Oct. 1: Tennessee reinstates the four players before the Auburn game because, according to Gilley, the school's preliminary investigation found no wrongdoing by the players. Although some key witnesses have yet to be interviewed, Gilley also declares there will be "no NCAA investigation." The NCAA, which does not discuss whether it is investigating a school or plans to, offers no comment.
Oct. 4: In response to comments made by Tennessee officials, the executive committee of the Tennessee Faculty Senate unanimously approves a resolution stating its "strong support" for Bensel-Meyers.
Oct. 14: Despite Gilley's statements, the College of Arts and Sciences strips the athletic department of its Writing Center satellite in which athletes can receive one-credit for the tutoring lab that began in 1991. The change comes in response to continued English Department concerns about improper tutoring of athletes. Beginning Nov. 1, in mid-semester, athletes must receive their English tutoring assistance in the same campus facility as regular students.
Oct. 18: The Tennessee Faculty Senate votes to create an academic integrity committee to study the areas of tutoring, grade changes and learning-disability accomodations for athletes. The reports are due in February.
Oct. 28: Gilley tells the New York Times that the school's final report to the NCAA will say that no rules were broken and that "we have a very sound system with seasoned people of integrity in place." Bensel-Meyers questions the integrity of the report, alleging that Leadbetter did not want to look at evidence she had of academic improprieties from 1995 involving one current player.
Nov. 19: Leadbetter confirms that NCAA investigators have decided to independently follow up on the school's internal report to determine if there were any rules violations.
March 20: Tennessee releases a letter from the NCAA informing the university that, based on the available evidence, "there appears to be no need to conduct any further inquiry" into whether NCAA rules related to academic fraud were violated.
April 12: The subcommittee of the Tennessee faculty athletic committee releases its recommendations, saying the tutoring program for athletes needs more academic and faculty oversight and that better systems need to be in place to prevent plagiarism. Among other recommendations: barring tutors from typing papers for athletes; stating more clearly to tutors that they may not write any portion of any assigment for athletes; regular audits of services, such as note-taking for athletes; separating tutoring programs for athletes who qualify for learning-disabled services and those who are simply considered academically "at risk;" and prohibiting tutors from contacting faculty
members about the progress of an athlete in a class.
April 20: Bensel-Meyers releases a review of the academic transcripts of 37 football players in which she alleges a pattern of questionable academic practices that include suspicious grade changes, abuse of academic probation, and the grouping of athletes into selected majors. In a letter, provost John Peters responds that upper-level administrators have reviewed her records and determined there are no institutional or NCAA violations.
May 1: The Tennessee faculty senate orders its athletic committee to investigate the findings of Bensel-Meyers, who had drawn conclusions about the behavior of the athletic department and university faculty based on her review of athlete transcripts. The faculty athletic committee also released its full report from its six-month review of the athletic program, including the finding that athletes receive twice as many grade changes as other students.
May 5: NCAA gains new interest in the Tennessee case, as investigator Ron Barker contacts Bensel-Meyers to arrange a meeting for May 23 to discuss her new documents.
May 7: ESPN's Outside the Lines reports that the starters on the football team were 16 times more likely than non-athletes to receive a grade of incomplete, based on an analysis of the transcripts of the 24 players who started at least three games on offense or defense last season. The nine players in most danger of losing their eligibility -- those with a 2.2 cumulative GPA or less -- are 31 times more likely to get an incomplete, which allows a student up to a year of extra time to complete his classwork.
May 8: Gilley orders a university review of Bensel-Meyers new charges.
May 15: Riley files a lawsuit against the NCAA, University of Tennessee and Bensel-Meyers asking the court to prevent Bensel-Meyers from turning over his or any other athletes' academic records tothe NCAA.
May 16: Riley drops the NCAA from the lawsuit. The NCAA postpones its meeting with Bensel-Meyers indefinitely.
May 19: Tennessee announces in a press release that it has found no NCAA violations related to players failing to declare majors. The school says although the official transcripts of some upperclassmen list them as "undeclared" or "undecided" because they have not been accepted into any college, that all of them in fact have declared a major by filling out a separate form that the NCAA recognizes, called a "Degree Designation Form."
June 14: Gilley orders the athletic tutoring and advising units to report to the Provost's office through a three-person oversight committee, stripping the athletic department of some control over the Office of Student Life. He also replaces Tennessee's longtime NCAA faculty athletic representative, Carl Asp, with interim Vice Provost Anne Mayhew, who will also chair the new oversight committee. Mayhew plans to offer more recommendations to Gilley by Sept. 1, when the Provost's office assumes control of Student Life.
July 22: Riley drops his lawsuit against Tennessee and Bensel-Meyers, clearing the way for the NCAA to return to campus. Gilley releases a statement apologizing to Riley for the release of his records, which were acquired by the Knoxville News-Sentinel from Tegano's office. (ESPN.com originally reported that a paper written by Riley, who has a learning disability, sparked concerns about institutional plagiarism in the athletic department). Gilley also announces new steps to prevent access to and disclosure of student records and information.
August 8: NCAA enforcement representative Ron Barker meets with Bensel-Meyers, who says the NCAA has not seen her evidence of violations of academic integrity. She says she hopes there are no NCAA violations. Bensel-Meyers also discloses that four more football players that week are being prosecuted for plagiarism in an English class, and that an athletic department tutor encouraged the teacher not to go through the normal university channel in reporting the incidents, but rather to let the coaches handle the discipline. The tutor, speaking on the condition of anonymity to The Tennessee, later denies any wrongdoing and says her conversation with the teacher was mischaracterized.