In an exclusive interview State Senator Jim Summerville told the Tribune that the scope of the grade changing investigation by the Senate Higher Education Sub Committee which he chairs is nearly three-times what has been reported previously.
"It (the hearing) is narrowly limited to the question of whether, why, and by whom the grades of some 270 students, enrolled in first-year, academically supported math courses, were changed from "Incomplete" to a passing letter grade," Summerville wrote.
Meanwhile TSU administrators continue to deny the allegations that the grades were changed outside of TBR and TSU protocol. TSU spokesperson Richard DelaHaya categorized the charges as "unfounded allegations" in a brief statement to the paper. He also went on to say the hearings will give the school administration an opportunity to set the record straight once and for all. "We look forward to providing accurate information to the legislators at our upcoming hearing and completing our internal investigation as soon as possible."
However, Summerville said that TSU interim President Shields requested and was granted a delay in the hearing due to prior travel dates on her schedule which conflicted with the previous date set by the committee. The Dixon County Republican also said that there are many questions his staff is currently looking into at this time. "The facts will and can only be developed from our research. At the moment a good many "facts" are in dispute. Our subcommittee will, as soon as the job is complete, present all that we learn and understand, backed by thorough, referenced documentation.
"The claims about "grade changes" came from credible sources but were disputed by highest ranking TSU administrators and Board of Regents executives. It is the duty of the General Assembly to oversee the laws it has enacted that apply to all public colleges and universities, since we representatives of the people appropriate their tax dollars to run this vast enterprise. The questions in this controversy go to the heart of the integrity of one of our oldest and proudest universities, and they must be investigated and resolved." There is no question that grades were changed. The controversy erupted when faculty members of the Mathematics department at TSU protested that the changes were made without following proper procedures. This week Dr. Jane Davis, president of the TSU Faculty Senate said an unnamed professor in the department contacted her to complain about what can only be described as pressure from the independent auditor at TSU who is conducting an in-house investigation.
"A very highly respected TSU Professor has informed me that the man conducting the Internal Audit of the Math grade, Mike Batson, contacted a member of Faculty Senate and attempted to get her to change her opinions about the grade change so that they would be supportive of the Administration," Davis wrote in an email obtained by the Tribune. "...It is clear that the validity of the Internal Audit is nonexistent if coercion is involved." When contacted by the Tribune Batson, the director of Internal Audit at TSU referred all inquiries to the school's media relations department. For her part Shields says the controversy is a result of "confusion."
"Tennessee State University welcomes the opportunity to clearly and factually address the unsupported and unfounded allegations raised about how grades were assigned to students who successfully completed the academic requirements of the math courses in question," Shields told the Tribune in statement to the Tribune. "It is unfortunate that confusion arose from the learning support, non-credit portion of the courses, which should not have influenced the course grade. The faculty members who taught the classes did what was right on behalf of the students who earned their grades. TSU stands ready and eager to address any misunderstanding for Senator Summerville and any member of the subcommittee." Davis however insists that the onus for the tumult falls squarely on the shoulders of TSU administration.
"...Much of the controversy over grade changed could have been resolved if Administration could produce the university grade change forms with required signatures with evidence that they were signed at the time of the grade change," wrote Davis. "The fact that this has not happened, together with the actions of the Provost in attempting to retaliate against me, and the actions of the Internal Auditor, make clear that it will be very difficult to get to the truth if TSU is only investigated from within." Summerville says that the hearing which is open to the public should take one day and he will call several witnesses. "...We expect to invite TSU President Portia Shields, Faculty Senate President Dr. Jane Davis, senior management from TBR, and others who can shed light into some of these shadows," Summerville said. "They (the hearings) are set for 1-3 p.m., August 13, Room 12 Legislative Plaza. I'm going to do my very best as chairman to conclude the hearings at that sitting, but we'll just have to see where we are." In an op-ed piece that ran in the Tennessean Shields denied any wrong doing by her administration.
"Let me be crystal clear...The TSU administration did not change or seek to change any students' grades in mathematics courses involved or any other courses." Davis however has a different take on the issue. "I did not initiate the grade change controversy but was told of the problem by a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences as a result of what department members were told at a faculty meeting regarding the Dept. Chair's concern over unauthorized grade changes."
The matter will be fully vetted in August.