The Senate Higher Education Subcommittee hearing today allowed Tennessee State University and Tennessee Board of Regents officials to demonstrate student grades were assigned accurately by faculty and not inappropriately changed by campus administrators.The hearing was called by Subcommittee Chairman Senator Jim Summerville after local and national media publicized one faculty member’s allegations of grade changes by administrators without faculty consent. The hearing included testimony from TSU academic and administrative officials, internal audit staff, TBR officials, and the faculty member who made the allegations.“While we are pleased with the opportunity to clarify confusion on this issue in a public forum, it is disappointing that resources have been spent addressing this topic,” said TBR Chancellor John Morgan.“TSU has made progress toward improving student success, and the courses in question were designed to help the students earn the grades they received. President [Portia] Shields has led the campus in a new direction to enhance student success, and not everyone agrees with those changes. “It was made clear in this hearing that TSU did what the faculty members who taught the classes believed was right on behalf of the students. We are pleased with the conclusions of the internal audit report, and we appreciate the opportunity to share that information with the subcommittee.” The courses in question were pilot math classes that incorporated one hour of non-credit learning support with the regular for-credit three-hour course. The question involved the extra hour of learning support, which was designed for the sole purpose of helping students pass the for-credit course. Because of a mistake by the university, students were inappropriately assigned an “incomplete” if they earned a passing grade in the course but didn’t complete all of the learning-support requirements. TBR guidelines say students should not be required to go back and do learning support work if they already demonstrated the ability to pass the credit-bearing class.According to the internal audit investigation, “These course grades had been provided by the faculty members who taught the courses. The Registrar's Office then removed the Incomplete for the students and recorded the grade the faculty members had determined the students earned.” It goes on to report, “Based on our comparison of the actual grades awarded by the faculty to the grades recorded in the students' transcripts in Banner, there was no indication that any ‘fraudulent grades’ were entered for the students.”Because the mistake was due to actions by the university and not the fault of the students, the university corrected the mistake without requiring hundreds of students to individually fill out forms and deliver them around campus for signatures. According to the audit report, “If the University had strictly followed its process for ‘Incomplete’ removal in order to correct its own error, the University would have placed a burden on the students to go through that process to correct the mistake. In addition, some students may have left the University or transferred to other institutions by the time this decision had been made.”The report also indicates that the faculty member who alleged wrongdoing teaches English at the university and has had no direct involvement with any of the math courses in question. A meeting of the full senate was never convened to question the issue or investigate the allegation. And the faculty member refused to meet with the auditor or to provide any documentation or proof of her allegations to campus officials.Campus officials changed the course requirements as soon as the problem was identified to avoid a similar issue in the future. “The most unfortunate aspect of this episode is that through the actions of a few individuals who decided to make this a public issue, the integrity of an outstanding university has been unfairly called into question,” Morgan said. “The faculty, administrators, and most of all, the students at Tennessee State University deserve better.”The TBR has begun the search for a permanent president at TSU, and the search committee membership is expected to be announced later this month. The new president is expected to be selected by late fall and assume leadership of the campus in January.The Tennessee Board of Regents is the nation’s sixth largest higher education system, governing 46 post-secondary educational institutions. The TBR system includes six universities – including TSU, 13 two-year colleges and 27technology centers, providing programs in 90 of Tennessee’s 95 counties to more than 200,000 students.
The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.