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Academic Scandal Rocks Michigan

I'm sure most of you remember last summer when former Michigan quarterback and current Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh got into a war of words. Here's what Harbaugh said.

"Michigan is a good school and I got a good education there," he said, "but the athletic department has ways to get borderline guys in and, when they're in, they steer them to courses in sports communications. They're adulated when they're playing, but when they get out, the people who adulated them won't hire them."

Not surprisingly, Michigan fans and alumni flocked to the defense of their school. I can't say I blame them. I would do the same thing. But the comments by Harbaugh, someone who has been through the system, led some people to start asking some questions. And today those people are willing to start laying out what they found for all to see, and on the surface it does not look good.

Part One of the four part series in the Ann Arbor News focuses on John Hagen, a professor of psychology. According to the Ann Arbor News, Hagen has been offering independent study classes to student athletes.

John Hagen was, as he has been for decades, close to some of the most recognized athletes at Michigan. University records obtained by The News show that the veteran psychology professor has taught at least 294 independent studies from the fall of 2004 to the fall of 2007, and 85 percent of those courses, 251, were with athletes.

Ok. So some student athletes getting special attention. Nothing new there. Every school, including Penn State, offers their student athletes special access to advisors, classes and tutors. So what makes this so interesting? Questions surround the course content in these special one-on-one sessions with Mr. Hagen.

Quarterback Chad Henne, wideout Mario Manningham, hockey player Chad Kolarik and softball ace Jennie Ritter are just a few of the Wolverines who have taken independent studies with Hagen, as have Jake Long and Shawn Crable, two of the captains on last season's football team.

When asked what they learned in Hagen's courses, some athletes described being taught how to take notes, use a day planner, make a calendar and manage their time.

In many cases, athletes said the main content of these courses was study skills and time management, although Hagen called the material "learning styles."

Time management? Taking notes? Using a day planner? These are certainly important skills for everyone aspiring to earn a college education and advance in society to have, but it's hardly worthy of earning college credits for it. These are the types of things most people learn through tutors and seminars. But the article doesn't stop there. Here is a list of charges made by the Ann Arbor News.

  • Michigan athletes described being steered to Hagen's courses by their athletic department academic counselors and, in some cases, earning three or four credits for meeting with Hagen for as little as 15 minutes every two weeks.
  • Three former athletic department employees said Hagen's independent study courses are sometimes used by academic support staff to boost the grade point averages of athletes in danger of becoming academically ineligible to compete in sports.
  • Athletes have enrolled in independent studies with Hagen several weeks beyond the normal deadline to add classes, which is 21 days after a semester begins. For example, in the winter 2005 semester that began Jan. 5 and ended April 19, two football players enrolled in independent studies with Hagen on March 18.
  • The amount of time some athletes said they spent on independent study work fell short of guidelines listed on the psychology department's Web site.
  • The News analyzed transcripts from 29 athletes who are either currently enrolled at Michigan, or left the school within the past three years. Twenty one of the athletes took 32 graded courses from Hagen - 25 independent study courses and seven standard classes. They averaged a grade of 3.62 in the professor's courses, compared to an overall grade point average of 2.57 in the athletes' other classes. No athlete received a grade worse than a B-minus from Hagen.
  • At least 48 athletes have taken two or more independent study courses with Hagen; nine of those 48 have taken three or more.
  • Athletes from every varsity sport except women's water polo and cross country - including 22 members of last fall's football team and eight members of this year's hockey team - have taken independent studies with Hagen since fall of 2004.

Now, is there anything here worth getting excited about? Not really. If half of the Florida State football team can get caught cheating on online exams without the NCAA looking their direction I don't think Michigan has anything to worry about here. But it certainly casts a dark shadow over the squeaky clean academic record that Michigan fans and alumni like to cloak themselves in. It's a major black eye to the program, but certainly not a death sentence.

I'm sure some of the Michigan readers who frequent BSD will be tempted to chime in here with the whole stones and glass houses defense. Don't. Just don't. Though we've had our share of off the field incidents lately, it's nothing like this. Our problems have just been the ordinary college kid shenanigans variety of trouble. These accusations leveled against the Michigan program basically boil down to cheating. There is really no comparison here.

Parts two through four of this series should be coming out in the Ann Arbor News in the coming days. I, along with the rest of the country, will look forward to reading it.