BUTTE – Auditing techniques developed during the investigation of the 2011 Montana Tech grade-changing scandal are now used regularly to protect the college's academic records, the school’s chancellor, Don Blackketter, said Wednesday.
In an interview with the Montana Standard, Blackketter said that protecting Tech’s academic integrity and treating the 36 implicated students "with respect" drove his actions after the transcript alterations were discovered in the fall and winter of 2011.
Documents published by WikiLeaks recently revealed that many of the students who had their grades changed were Saudis, and that they gave tokens of appreciation to a college employee who changed their transcripts.
Montana Tech has not revealed the identity of that employee, who was fired. The Montana Standard filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Blackketter on Wednesday seeking the fired employee’s identity. The chancellor said he would forward the request to the college’s legal counsel, and would have at least a preliminary response within 10 days.
The chancellor said that as far as the college’s investigation could determine, the gifts given were small.
“We had to build some computer tools” to investigate the transcript irregularities fully, and those tools have since been used on a regular schedule. In fact, Blackketter said, Tech has shared the auditing tools it developed with other schools in the Montana University System.
He said the systems now in place “absolutely, without question” are more effective in protecting the college’s academic records.
He said the college has moved on since the scandal broke more than three years ago. Enrollment continues to grow, and he said that the number of Saudi students, which was more than 80 before the scandal and dropped into the mid-30s soon afterward, has now grown back to 45 or so.
Blackketter reiterated and emphasized several of the points he made in a statement he released Tuesday, including:
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None of the students involved escaped sanctions by returning to Saudi Arabia or going anywhere. “The transcripts are the property of Montana Tech. We own them,” he said. “Every transcript was corrected.”
None of the students broke any laws. “They used poor judgment. They were unethical. But they are people, and they deserve to be treated with respect.”
“As far as we can tell,” the changes were the action of a single employee. “And I believe that,” he said.
Blackketter said every student’s case was considered individually by the college’s Academic Standards Committee. “As many as eight” students who had graduated had their degrees revoked, he said.
Some of the students were expelled, and others were readmitted, he said, based on the level of severity of their actions.
For instance, he cited one student who “had a grade point average approaching 4.0” and had one “W” (for withdrawal) removed from the transcript. “That student made a compelling case for re-admittance,” he said.
In a video made in early 2012, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Douglas Abbott said the changes ranged from the transcript with one "W" removed to another student's transcript that had 16 grades changed, four courses removed and six courses added.
Blackketter said he did not believe the institution suffered lasting damage. “We’ll just move forward,” he said. “We are committed to the academic integrity of our students and our records.”