by Steve Neavling, Michigan Advance
June 16, 2023
The accreditation board that monitors the University of Michigan is investigating allegations that the school’s administration pressured department chairs to falsify grades while graduate student instructors were on strike over a labor dispute.
In a letter last week, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) advised the graduate student instructors that it is reviewing complaints that false grades were submitted in classes taught by the striking workers.
The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), which has been on strike since March 29 and withheld grades during the winter term, requested the investigation after emails showed that the university’s administration directed academic departments to issue grades, even though those faculty members had little to no contact with the students.
“Upon initial review of your complaint, HLC determined that the matter regarding University of Michigan raises potential concerns regarding the institution’s compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation,” wrote Robert Rucker, the HLC’s manager of compliance and complex evaluations.
He added, “Due to these potential concerns, HLC will conduct a further review of the institution based on your complaint.”
Rucker advised the union that it will give the university 30 days to respond to the allegations. Based on the university’s response, the HLC will determine what action to take.
“The administration committed academic fraud on a massive scale,” GEO President Jared Eno said at a news conference Thursday, flanked by an oversized, inflated fat cat smoking a cigar and clutching a bag of money. “They are so opposed to paying their workers a living wage that in the winter 22-23 semester, the administration forced faculty and staff to make up fake grades rather than negotiate with its workers in good faith. As far as we know, the move to falsify grades en masse is unprecedented in the history of labor disputes and higher education.”
University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said the university is aware that the HLC received a complaint about grades and plans to cooperate.
“While we are confident the university has acted ethically and well within legal bounds on all matters brought forth, we look forward to fully engaging with the Higher Learning Commission’s review and continuing a valued relationship that has extended for more than a century with this accreditor,” Broekhuizen tells Metro Times in a statement. “We will respond directly to the Higher Learning Commission within 30 days.”
Accreditation is important because it ensures that a university is providing a quality education. It also is a requirement for many forms of financial aid, including federal grants and loans. Loss of accreditation could also jeopardize the visa status of international students.
By giving automatic A’s, regardless of merit, the university is harming students and instructors in what amounts to academic misconduct, the striking graduate workers say. For language and math classes, for example, good grades determine whether a student is ready for the next level.
Striking workers said there was no excuse for fabricating grades, pointing out that the administration knew months in advance that graduate student instructors could go on strike.
“When the end of the term rolled around, the only way they could get grades submitted was through outright falsification,” said Amir Fleischmann, the GEO’s contract committee chair. “And outright falsification is exactly what they did. The dean and provost pressured, cajoled, and bullied department chairs and non-instructional staff into submitting grades for the students of striking workers.”
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