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Richardson: Academics, not Athletics

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Auburn president: Course issue involves academics, not football

7/18/2006, 3:38 p.m. CT

The Associated Press   

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn University President Ed Richardson said questions swirling around independent-study courses taken by football players center more on academics than athletics.

"Everybody is interested in football, and that gives the story some life to some people. We hope to bring it to a conclusion fairly soon," Richardson told the Montgomery Advertiser in a story Tuesday.

The university is reviewing claims that a sociology professor, Thomas Petee, repeatedly gave high grades to football players without requiring them to do much academic work.

The grades were in so-called "directed reading" courses, in which students aren't required to attend class but instead meet privately with teachers.

Richardson spent time Monday consulting with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an accreditation organization that requested information after learning of the allegations, first reported in detail last week by The New York Times.

Tom Benberg, chief of staff for SACS, said his office wanted to hear Richardson's views and "see what they plan to do if in fact there is something to this."

"I don't feel like this story has been validated as far as if the university faltered," Benberg said. "If there was an aberration, they need to review what has happened and find a way to prevent that from happening again."

Auburn is no stranger to scrutiny overs its academic programs. SACS placed the school on probation in 2004 after an investigation showed irregularities regarding trustee involvement and academic governance.

The school was fully reinstated last year.

"That was then. What happened before is in the past," Benberg said. "This is new. What has happened before has no effect on how we approach Auburn now."

Richardson said that when he met with trustees on July 7 "there was no evidence there was anything there at all. Now we're looking at it as, `Yes, there is that potential that there could have been some very poor judgment shown.' There are some things floating around out there that cause me concern."

Petee's courses were given to many students, not just athletes.

"This really isn't an athletic issues; it's an academic issue," Richardson said

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