Sport abuses causes SACS to put Auburn on probation

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SACS puts Auburn on probation

By Regan Loyola Connolly
Montgomery Advertiser

Auburn University was placed on 12 months probation Tuesday by a national accrediting agency that said the school violated rules regarding the school's board of trustees and intercollegiate athletics.

School officials said they were "disappointed and surprised" by the ruling, which is one step short of revoking Auburn's accreditation. Lack of accreditation would result in the loss of millions of dollars in federal funding, including federal financial aid.

Tuesday's ruling came from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools after a two-year investigation into allegations of micro-management in daily university affairs by the board of trustees, a violation of SACS standards.

Jack Allen, associate executive director for the association's Commission on Colleges, said specific details about Auburn's violations would not be released until a full report was sent to school leaders, but he said the ruling will not be taken lightly.

"Probation is a serious status that we have," Allen said.

Allen said the school violated the section of SACS' requirements that relates to "institutional commitment and responsibility," along with rules pertaining to financial control of intercollegiate athletics. Allen also said the report found Auburn in violation of rules regarding the governing board and its responsibilities.

Auburn University released a short statement on the action.

"We will continue to work earnestly to address any legitimate concerns. Auburn University will continue the strong pattern of progress and growth witnessed in recent years," the statement said.

Jack Venable was the only Auburn trustee who could be reached by phone Tuesday afternoon.

He said he wasn't comfortable discussing the ruling until he reviews SACS' report. He did say the university should be cooperative with the agency in trying to meet standards.

"My only reaction right now is that Auburn and the board of trustees needs to do whatever is necessary to make sure there is no loss of accreditation," he said.

Allen said a SACS committee will visit the school next fall and submit a report on the school's progress in correcting the violations. The report and Auburn's response to it will be presented for review to agency members in their yearly meeting next December.

"At that point we have several options -- Auburn can be removed from probation with no follow-up, with follow-up or the probation could be extended," Allen said. "There is always the possibility that the school could be removed from membership."

Jim Bradley, a professor of biology at Auburn, was chair of the Faculty Senate in 2001 when the group, along with students, staff members and alumni called on SACS to investigate Auburn after trustees fired then-President William Muse.

"One thing that this vindicates is the concerns of the stakeholding groups who voted no confidence in the trustees two and a half years ago," he said.

Bradley said SACS' findings uncover misconduct that dates back years.

"Some people think that the problems began two and a half years ago, but in fact, they are decades old and the problem has been chronic for as long as I have been here and acute and chronic for at least 15 years," he said.

Bradley has been on the faculty for 27 years.

"This is the first day of a new era for Auburn. It's a sad day when a university goes on probation, but this is the beginning of a new and much improved Auburn University," he said. "I am glad it is beginning today, but I am sad it didn't begin two and a half years ago."

Following the request for an investigation, then-interim president William Walker sued to block the investigation and a federal judge eventually appointed Georgia attorney Richard Y. Bradley as an independent investigator.

Bradley's first report in January 2003 said the trustees were not violating SACS regulations. The agency asked him to conduct a more detailed report, which SACS used in deciding to put Auburn on probation.

Judy Sheppard, a member of the Auburn chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said she was not surprised by SACS' findings.

"The handwriting has been on the wall for a good while," she said. "This is nothing that you would welcome, but if it's going to help bring about some change to the board of trustees and maybe get us a new president, that's good."

Sheppard, a journalism professor, said the association in a meeting Tuesday drafted a resolution that calls for the resignation of Walker for his "lack of ability to guide the university through a reaffirmation of its accreditation by SACS."

The resolution also calls for the resignation of trustees Earlon McWhorter, Byron Franklin and Robert Lowder, along with Athletic Director David Housel.

Disapproval for the university leaders stems from a secret trip Walker took to Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 20 to recruit football coach Bobby Petrino of the University of Louisville. Housel, Franklin and McWhorter were also on that trip, traveling in a plane owned by Colonial Bank, the company headed by Lowder.

Dr. Dent Williams, a member of the board of directors for the Auburn Alumni Association, said SACS' decision is devastating.

"It's no secret that there has been concern over the direction of Auburn's leadership over the past few years," he said. "We are devastated and our worst fears have been realized."

Gov. Bob Riley released a statement Tuesday saying his administration "is going to do everything it possibly can to make sure Auburn University retains its accreditation."

Jonathan McConnell, the president of the Auburn Student Government Association, said he was surprised by the agency's findings.

"I am really anxious to see what their reasons are for these criteria not being made," he said. "I look forward to getting these problems solved as quickly as we can so we can get this blemish removed from Auburn's record."

Now this is something that interested alums, students and faculty members should be looking into.
Accreditation ruling flusters AU students

Accreditation ruling flusters AU students

By Regan Loyola Connolly
Montgomery Advertiser

AUBURN -- A day after a regional accrediting agency placed Auburn University on probation for violating rules regarding the school?s board of trustees and intercollegiate athletics, students were confused and frustrated.

Student leaders are looking at ways to help their peers understand the importance of the issue, which boils down to money. And faculty members will vote today on a resolution that calls for President William Walker?s job. The Tuesday SACS ruling includes 12 months probation for the university and requires the school to perform a self-study in an effort to target problems and implement change. The probation is one step away from a loss of accreditation, which would mean the school would lose millions of dollars in federal funding, including federal financial aid.

On the last day of classes for the fall semester Wednesday, most students interviewed on campus said they didn?t even know what the decision meant.

Noel Smith, a sophomore from Selma, said she couldn?t get any clear information that explained what SACS? decision meant.

?It sounds pretty scary,? she said as she walked home from class. ?I don?t use financial aid, but I imagine students who do would be pretty upset if they lost it. It?s pretty hard to grasp this whole idea right now.?

Jessica Eastman, a junior from Meridianville, is president of the Auburn Students for Constitutional Reform, a group that believes the probation will help bring change to Auburn.

?This probation is the first step in revising the way that Auburn is led,? she said. ?There is reinvigorated effort (among students) to make it known that the trustees and administration involved in the micromanagement of Auburn are encouraged to step down from their positions. Students seem to feel that this problem has been brewing for years, and this is the final straw. They want new leadership for our university.?

The Auburn University Senate will vote on three resolutions today that call for a vote of no confidence in President William Walker, censure of Walker, and his resignation. Walker is expected to address the group today.

Mike Malone, the director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, said accreditation is essentially what makes a university credible.

?The whole reason for having a regional accrediting body is to allow for peers to agree on certain standards of quality,? he said. ?The criteria are the written standards that each accredited institution must stand against.?

He said accredited universities have more clout in recruiting faculty and students, but he stressed that the financial aid qualification is the most important factor.

Freshman Jane Moncrief said she wasn?t even aware the decision was looming.

?I haven?t heard anything about it recently and I haven?t heard anyone talking about it,? she said.

Jonathan McConnell, the president of the school?s student government association, said the buzz on campus Wednesday was one of confusion and frustration.

?A lot of students are really concerned about what this means and they want to know what it means for their federal financial aid,? he said. ?Some students are still wondering if we are accredited.?

McConnell said the student government association and members of the school newspaper staff are considering hosting a public information session next week or sending out a mass e-mail about the probation decision to help squelch rumors and provide information.

?We are working on a way to educate students,? he said. ?A mass e-mail would help explain a little better what is going on.?

McConnell said with semester exams starting Friday, many students can?t pay much attention to the probation.

?For students who have followed this for the last few years, it?s hard to focus on it now and it?s hard to focus on finals,? he said. ?It?s especially good that our accreditation wasn?t taken away because those that graduate in a week wouldn?t be getting a diploma from an accredited university.?

Malone said SACS currently provides accreditation for 16 public four-year colleges and universities in Alabama along with the 28 public two-year colleges. It is the largest accrediting association in the Southeast and has other regional groups in different parts of the country.

In 1965 federal financial aid was first tied to accreditation, Malone said, and today it remains the main reason why colleges and universities seek out accreditation.

McConnell said he hopes students can play a key role in helping Auburn fix any problems, but that can?t start until more information is provided.

He said SACS told Auburn a letter with specifics on the violations should arrive within a week.

?We need to throw a whole lot of support to whoever is going to step up and fix this,? he said. ?We can?t do that until we get more information.?

Gov. Bob Riley said action would be taken on the Auburn probation once the report is made available.

?I think it?s entirely premature to go in and start talking about it before we see the report,? he said after a Mothers Against Drunk Driving press conference at the State Capitol. ?There are a lot of accusations being made across the state and we?re going to investigate which ones are true.?

Meanwhile, McConnell said he hopes students don?t ignore the issues while they busy themselves with studying for exams.

?I think this should remain in the forefront, but our education is what?s most important, so we also need to focus on finals,? he said. ?This needs to stay on our minds.?

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