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Scholastic Scrutiny 

The Chris Rodgers/alleged academic fraud controversy leads to a second university inquiry

As one investigation into alleged academic fraud at the University of Arizona continues, a separate inquiry involving the matter is getting underway.

Faculty members in the Department of Classics and the Religious Studies Program on Tuesday, April 18, were informed by Jerry Hogle, the university's vice provost for instruction, that he had been asked to review their independent-study procedures--and that the review could potentially end up extending across campus.

Hogle declined to verbally discuss the inquiry with the Weekly, but he did provide a copy of the memo he sent to the classics and religious studies faculty as his response to an e-mailed list of questions.

The inquiry stems from a March 28 memo signed by eight tenure-stream faculty members in the Department of Classics. The memo, sent to Dr. Charles Tatum, the dean of the College of Humanities, informed him of no-confidence vote regarding Dr. Alex Nava, an associate professor of religious studies who was the interim classics department head. (The Religious Studies Program is currently part of the Department of Classics, even though they are two different disciplines.) The memo alleged that Nava had improperly enrolled a "student-athlete" in six units of classics independent study this semester. The memo also claims that Nava encouraged that same student-athlete, who is later identified in the memo as a basketball player, to enroll in a three-credit graduate classics course for which the student-athlete was not qualified.

UA basketball player Chris Rodgers--who graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology in December 2005--was not identified by name in the memo, although he was identified by the fact that he was the only basketball player who had graduated and was taking graduate courses.

Nava, who has stepped down as interim chair, has responded that he has done nothing wrong, blaming the no-confidence memo on racism and interdepartmental politics. However, Nava has conceded that he has not heard from Rodgers in months, and told the Weekly he currently has approximately 27 independent-studies students under his tutelage, including 12 athletes.

The no-confidence memo led to an investigation by the UA's Department of Athletics. Officials originally said the results of the investigation would be announced earlier this week. However, Senior Associate Director of Athletics Rocky LaRose said early this week that the results of that investigation will probably be announced the first part of next week--i.e., sometime around April 24-25. She said the investigation was set back partially by the sudden illness, resulting in heart surgery, of UA President Peter Likins, and that the university wanted to make sure it got everything correct.

That investigation is unrelated, according to the memo from Hogle, to his inquiry into the independent-study programs in classics and religious studies--and possibly independent-study programs across campus. Hogle said he was requested to look into the matter by Provost George Davis because of concerns expressed in the Nava no-confidence memo.

Hogle makes it clear that he is not leading a formal investigation, but rather a fact-finding mission.

"Seeing as we have policies on independent study (see online)," Hogle writes, "we now have to ask: Are those policies being adhered to in departments and colleges? Is there great variation in how tightly these policies are followed (Are some rigorous? Are some lax?)? Can we be sure that all independent studies ask the same amount of work per credit hour (roughly) that a regular class does (as our policy says is supposed to happen)?"

The memo says Hogle will be meeting individually with religious studies and classics faculty members over the next few weeks.

"The objective here is simply fact-finding and an understanding of faculty perspectives at this point in time," Hogle writes. "I will simultaneously be working with others beyond classics to see how best to carry this inquiry further outside of a single department, much of which may have to be done when faculty return to campus next fall."

As the athletics department investigation continues, and as Hogle's inquiry gets underway, the bickering between Nava and some members of the Classics Department continues.

Nava last week told the Weekly (see "Unearned Credits" Currents, April 13) that he felt he was qualified to tutor Rodgers in classics independent study because he had "taken Ph.D.-level classes on a variety of Greek texts." However, David Christenson, an associate professor of classics and the department's director of graduate studies, called that claim "disingenuous and sophistic.

"Nava has studied neither Greek nor Latin, the core of our discipline, and would not stand a chance of being accepted into our M.A. program with his classics 'qualifications,'" Christenson said in an e-mail to the Weekly. "He could, however, declare an undergraduate major in classics and begin his studies with the other first-year students. The core of our petition identifies this fraud, and the abuse of power involved in perpetrating the fraud (i.e., signing up the student up for the graduate level independent study and then trying to conceal his actions from us). I took high school physics, but, if for some freakish reason I became interim head of the Department of Physics at the UofA, I wouldn't be directing graduate-level independent studies in physics."

Nava did not return an e-mail regarding Hogle's inquiry before the Weekly's press deadline. Attempts to reach him via telephone were unsuccessful, in part because his UA voicemail was full.

Rodgers has not responded to several e-mails seeking comment.

More by Jimmy Boegle

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