(Courtesy The Tennessean) – Tennessee State University officials celebrated after releasing an internal audit they said exonerated them from charges of improperly changing grades in front of a state Senate panel Monday afternoon.
Officials from both the Nashville university and the Tennessee Board of Regents testified that the school had misinterpreted state policy by giving “incomplete” grades to 270 math students in the fall of 2011, but then correctly gave students the grades they had earned by the following spring.
After the hearing, TSU officials cheered and sang the school’s fight song on a university bus outside Legislative Plaza. President Portia Shields briefly danced in the aisle at the front of it.
Inside the Senate hearing room, the mood had been less energetic. Officials from the Nashville university and those who made the allegations were both heard by the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee consisting of Sens. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville and Reginald Tate, D-Memphis.
University officials, including the coordinator of the courses in question, the head of the school’s math department, and Shields, all spoke to the committee about how the grade changing situation developed and was addressed when school officials learned that the university’s action violated Tennessee Board of Regents policy.
“We cannot allow syllabi or another program to supersede TBR policy or policy at Tennessee State University,” Shields said.
The two courses in question were both first-time pilot courses mixing regular and remedial content, the latter of which can no longer be taught at state universities. At TSU, 270 math students received “incomplete” grades required by the syllabi for not completing supplemental coursework that was supposed to bring them up to college-level classwork.
That policy was not in line with the state’s standard for the redesigned courses, which did not require the supplemental material. If students were smart enough to pass the college-level course without remediation, then school and TBR officials both said they deserved the grades they eventually received.
“If they passed the course and did not need learning support, then that’s the primary consideration,” Kay Clark, TBR’s interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, told the committee. “Sincerely, it was a mistake.”
Jane Davis, the chair of the school’s Faculty Senate and one of the professors who initially publicized the allegations, said students who did not complete all of the required work shouldn’t have gotten the same grades as their peers who did, even in the pilot course.
“A pilot doesn’t mean we live in some fantasy world because we didn’t get the results we thought we might get, even though we’re just trying this for the very first time,” Davis said. Her testimony received both cheers and boos.
The senators on the subcommittee listened and occasionally asked questions but didn’t say much about what had happened.
The audit released by the university showed that every faculty member who taught the courses said they knew about the changes when they happened. It showed that while every faculty member interviewed that taught the courses supported the grade changes, five of the 17 said they were not aware of the changes when they were made. The audit also found the coordinator sent an email to faculty members who taught the course on March 19 requesting grades for those who received the “incompletes.”
After the hearing, Shields said internal communication at the university must be improved because the situation could have been avoided.
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Rick DelaHaya: 615.963.5312
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About Tennessee State University
With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university and is a comprehensive, urban, coeducational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as the Number One University in the state by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912 Tennessee State University celebrates 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu
TSU Quick Facts
Motto: Think, Work, Serve Established: June 19, 1912 Type: Public, HBCU Endowment: $41.7 million Chancellor: John Morgan President: Dr. Glenda Baskin Glover Faculty: 431 Enrollment: 8775 Location: Nashville, Tennessee, United States Campus: Urban, 500 acres (2 km²) Former names: Tennessee A&I State Normal School for Negroes (1912); Tennessee A&I State Normal College (1925); Tennessee A&I State University (1951); Tennessee State University (1968) Colors: Reflex Blue and White Nickname: Tigers Athletics: National Collegiate Athletic Association Affiliations: Ohio Valley Conference Web site: www.tnstate.edu Phone: 615-963-5000
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