August 11, 2006

The Scandal That Squeaked

How can you tell when the New York Times is wrong about something?

When the original story takes up 3,245 words, and the story reporting the final outcome of the investigation [NYTimes registration required] that was launched by that original story only yields 857 words.

In the end, the University's investigation found that--despite the Times' breathless hopefulness for a rousing athletic scandal at an SEC school (check the title of that first article--"Top Grades and No Class Time for Auburn Players")--the problem lay more with the lax standards for assigning directed study classes.

The University has now released a revised standard for how, when, and to whom directed studies classes may be assigned, and the two professors holding leadership positions within the disputed areas of study have stepped aside and returned to normal teaching duties.

There is still a petulent tawdry little tale in here, however, of academic snittiness by folks who by all rights should know better. The professor who first brought up the allegations of abuse made a point of directly accusing not only a professor, but also the athletic department of wrongdoing, but he now seems to think the University was wrong to concentrate on clearing the athletics department. Or something--here's his quote:

[...] Gundlach said in a telephone interview Thursday evening that the changes were “much more than I expected, to be honest.”

“I expected them to do everything possible to clear athletics,” Gundlach said. “You can see that when this first came out, athletics was their primary concern. With those kinds of policy changes in directed readings, and a change in administrators because they are not maintaining academic integrity, I think are all pretty good things to come out of this.” [...]

Why NOT do everything possible to make sure the athletics program was cleared? THAT'S WHO WAS ACCUSED OF WRONGDOING. That department would be the one most harmed were the charges of "easy grades for athletes" to be accurate. That department would be the one which stood to lose millions of dollars if any sort of NCAA violations took place.

And THAT is why the good professor decided to use the athletics department as a foil to make SURE he got changes made. I am certain he could see from his own data that athletes weren't the only ones to benefit from the poor control over assignment of directed studies, but he knew they would be the only tool to make sure the University did something.

And a sports scandal is the only thing sexy enough to make the New York Times take any notice of anything related to Alabama at all. Because, let's face it, there is no such thing as a scandal when just regular students stumble upon a way to make an easy A, but there IS when it involves big time athletics. If, indeed, it actually did in the first place.

Now, whether using the athletics program as a tool to further his goals was smart on his part, or whether this was driven by a pure desire to hold the Sociology department to the most rigorous academic standards, or whether it was just a crass attempt to embarrass a colleague whom he disliked, I can't say. But for the love of all that's holy, DON'T sit there and act surprised that the university did exactly what you'd hoped they'd do--snap to attention when an allegation of misdeeds by the athletic department were made, and were made in a way guaranteed to cause as much heat as possible by peddling the story to the Times.

The Times allows this to end the article:

[...] Gundlach said he was optimistic that there would be positive changes in academics. He noted a memo sent to professors insisting that they provide rigor in their regular courses.

“I think we’re going to see a noticeable change in the academic climate at Auburn,” Gundlach said. “I think we’ll see a lot more students on study dates then [sic--or, at least I think it is... Ed.] drinking dates.”

Yes, now there will be no more drunken debauchery upon the Plains. Not that I don't think it's a noble goal--I happen to believe life for everyone would be a lot better if folks didn't dip into the booze vat. And further, I think the vast majority of directed study classes ARE a crock, and I wouldn't have my feelings hurt if they were done away with completely. But I think the good professor might be indulging in a bit of self-serving wishful thinking here. Just a smidge.

Anyway, as things move forward from here, let's remember one thing: sociology isn't exactly up there with aerospace engineering when it comes to the amount of mental rigor required to be successful at it.

Or as my good friend Dan Rather might say, "Just because you saw a dancing chicken at the state fair doesn't mean Fred Astaire could lay eggs."

Posted by Terry Oglesby at August 11, 2006 09:58 AM

Just to be clear, hard times media™ is in no way affiliated with the New York Times, the Times of London, Time magazine, Morris Day and the Time, or High Times magazine.

However, our Times is really the only source of information that you need. Don't bother with those other guys. Well, except for maybe Morris.


Posted by: skillzy at August 11, 2006 10:17 AM

To quote (paraphrase) a R.A Heinlein character Lazarus Long (Woodrow Wilson Smith): " The hard sciences require intelligence and hard work. The other "sciences" require mere scholarship." The guy teaches sociology. What does he expect? You read books and if you are really in to the subject, you conduct a few surveys. We aren't talking nuclear physics.

Posted by: Larry Anderson at August 11, 2006 10:20 AM

Just keep diapers on yer stinkin' flying monkeys, m'kay, Skillzy? I mean, come ON! They're bad enough to sit around and throw their poop, but having to put up with that AND having poop come screaming down out of the sky is just TOO MUCH.

And Larry, we must be fair--just because a person has a degree in something like nuclear engineering doesn't necessarily make him a reliable person in other areas. ::coughJimmy Cartercough::

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at August 11, 2006 10:23 AM

Carter does not have a degree in Nuclear Engineering. He was in training to be a Nuke Boat guy when he resigned to be a peanut farmer.

To be fair, the Naval Academy was a fairly rigorous engineering school back in the day.

Actually, some of my best friends are English majors and I enjoy my talks with them that usually involve fries and a drink.

Of course, I have to admit that a BS in math and physics simply means I can make change without the register telling me what is due the customer.

Posted by: Larry Anderson at August 11, 2006 10:41 AM

I think you confused the oh-wee-oh, wee-OH-oh from the Wizard of Oz with the oh-wee-oh-wee-oh of Morris Day and the Times' "The Bird".

No monkeys to see here, move along.

Posted by: skillzy at August 11, 2006 10:48 AM

Larry--I stand corrected. He has a degree in engineering from Annapolis, and later took some graduate nuke physics courses at Union College before leaving without obtaining his degree. Were I you, however, I would stay away from those English majors--they might cramp your writing style.

AS FOR SKILLZY. I, sir, am NEVER confused--flying monkeys, flying birds, The Byrds--all the same to me. NO POOP ON THE DESKTOPS!

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at August 11, 2006 10:58 AM

My preacher was an English major and a HS English teacher prior to entering the ministry. We are therefore blessed with sermons filled with the appropriate number of subjects and predicates

Posted by: Larry Anderson at August 11, 2006 12:24 PM

The NYT makes a great monkey/bird cage liner, which should help keep the poop issues to a minimum.

Posted by: skillzy at August 11, 2006 01:15 PM

Larry, he sounds like a real show off.

And Skillzy, it does do that, although the monkeys might complain about the quality of the writing.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at August 11, 2006 01:52 PM

Man oh man. I just hate it when someone uses my "the Bob" reference before I can.

Posted by: Tony von Krag at August 11, 2006 10:28 PM