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Column

Silence, inaction score no points

By SUE CARLTON
Published January 19, 2008


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For a while there, the University of South Florida looked to be enthusiastically embracing a college football tradition already held dear at other schools.

The Bulls are getting good at tailgating, singing songs en masse in stadiums and smack-talking opposing fans.

But we're talking an uglier tradition here: looking like the kind of place where a gifted jock might get an academic pass.

A recent example: the Florida State University cheating scandal involving student athletes and online classes.

At USF, the allegations center on Ben Moffitt, who was a standout linebacker for a Bulls team that got considerable attention this year.

Earlier this month, his now-estranged wife said she took online courses for him and wrote "every single paper he has ever written in five years at USF."

Strong stuff, if true.

In fact, Shauna Moffitt's bosses at the Sumter County Property Appraiser's Office were so concerned about public perception and taxpayer dollars that they quickly required her to repay them for any time spent on nonwork work, as in schoolwork she says she did for her husband.

And USF too, right?

USF officials must have immediately investigated, since the allegations involve the very integrity of education, right?

Sure didn't sound like it at the time.

"When one student is alleged to have done something, it's not something that rises to an institutional level," USF spokesman Ken Gullette told the Times' Greg Auman after the news broke. "If there was reason to suspect widespread abuse, it'd be looked at. ... The short answer is you have to trust, be watchful and impress to students that honesty and integrity are important."

In the Tampa Tribune, Gullette referred to the allegations as "a domestic dispute."

So, no, USF did not appear to be champing at the bit to thoroughly investigate a guy they previously marketed as "Linebacker. Leader. Husband. Father" to prove true or false a serious charge against him.

Things sounded a little different when I talked recently with USF provost Ralph Wilcox.

While student privacy laws keep him from commenting on a specific case, in general, "Certainly the university is going to look very, very seriously at all allegations supported by sufficient and sound evidence," he said.

So why not say so in the first place?

"We didn't see the need at the time to ... respond to public allegations that we weren't doing anything," he said. "Because we knew better."

"The public should not assume we're ignoring some matters," said Wilcox, who also said there is no evidence of a widespread problem.

Okay. Sounds promising enough.

Though those same student privacy prohibitions will keep the school from telling us what the investigation (assuming there is one) turns up, and what sanctions (if any) there might be.

The school can't even say if Moffitt is cleared.

Wilcox also said the school's undergraduate council is looking into the integrity of online courses, a problem at many schools, and a difficult one to police.

That committee's results are expected by semester's end.

Hopefully, we'll get to hear about them.

[Last modified January 18, 2008, 23:54:27]


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