Coverage of academic cheating scandal
at Florida State leaves much to be desired
Ms. Charlotte Hall
Editor, Orlando Sentinel
Dear Ms. Hall,
I’ve been very disappointed in the Sentinel’s coverage of the academic cheating scandal at Florida State University.
Or, should I say, the lack of coverage.
This is NOT a football story, but a news story. The Sentinel has Andrew Carter “covering” the story because he is the Sentinel’s FSU football beat writer. He’s not even in Tallahassee, if today’s A1 story is an indication. His report today quotes only athletic department personnel, and adds prepared statements from the FSU president. Not exactly an investigative effort.
Why aren’t Sentinel news reporters in Tallahassee — I assume your budget cuts haven’t gone that deep yet — hounding FSU academic and administrative personnel for more on the story? How many non-athletes are involved? Who was the professor involved, does he or she have tenure, and why hasn’t that person been interviewed? What is the FSU faculty’s position on the scandal? What are the school’s policies on academic dishonesty? (To help, I’ve attached a PDF from the FSU Web site detailing the “Florida State University Academic Honor Policy.”)
Apparently a few people have already been fired — anybody try calling them or tracking them down?
How do real students on campus feel?
Here’s novel story angle — what do some of the suspended players think? How do they feel about taking the easy route in an easy class and getting caught? Some must be seniors — how does it feel to miss your last college game because you cheated? (If they’re seniors, and they’re suspended, football team gag orders should no longer apply.)
Then there’s big picture stuff — is cheating more acceptable in society today? (UCF football coach George O’Leary might like to comment on that.) Is “Music Appreciation” a course worthy of a major university’s degree programs? Do online courses foster cheating?
There’s more to be done by your newspaper . . . a lot more.
For instance, the FSU president and spokespersons have stated that “federal privacy laws” prohibit them from giving information about the students involved in the cheating. Is that true? It sure sounds highfalutin — a lot like my cable company telling me that I can’t get the Golf Channel in high-definition because of “FCC regulations.” I have doubts that those laws actually exist, but I’d like to know more, and the daily newspaper should tell me more.
Where is the outrage from Sentinel columnists and editorial writers? Mike Bianchi’s column today barely moves the irritation meter, let alone outrage, taking a tone that this type of thing happens all the time, Bobby Bowden’s sure been a good ol’ boy, and maybe he’ll lose a few wins off his record.
Are all of the editorial writers on holiday vacation? From what I can tell, there hasn’t been an opinion page piece on this scandal this week. A few months ago you ran a series on Florida “Shame Days,” but this situation qualifies as shameful, too, doesn’t it?
The Sentinel should be calling for the university to pull the football team from its upcoming bowl game. If the team’s 7-6 record isn’t embarrassing enough to FSU’s reputation, to put the school’s scandal — and inadequate reaction to it -- front and center on a national television broadcast will certainly make it worse.
The Sentinel should be calling for the dismissal of Bowden, who lost all “institutional control” of his program years ago (22-16 record, 2005-07) but apparently has job security worthy of a Supreme Court justice. (Especially when one of his former players is his boss.)
While you’re at it, maybe the university president should be asked to step down, too.
I write this because I don’t know what I’m going to tell my journalism students when the new semester starts Jan. 7. We will certainly discuss the Sentinel’s coverage, and a newspaper’s role in a story like this.
How would you describe the Sentinel’s efforts on this story? What kind of grade would you give yourself on the coverage?
If I was grading this project, you’d be flunking the course. But it’s not too late to earn some extra credit by getting more, digging more, asking more, reporting more, writing more.
It’s not often that a great story falls into a newspaper’s hands. To use the obligatory football analogy — don’t fumble it.
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Disclaimers: I did not attend FSU, UofF or UofM and thus have no regional bias, academic, athletic or otherwise. I took Jazz Survey, History of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Flying Circus of Physics (I swear) at Cleveland State University. I worked part-time as a copy editor at the Sentinel for about 14 months (2002-03), but quit shortly after the story of Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks’ death was played on page D3 of the newspaper. (I was outraged — most papers had it on A1.) I subscribe to the Sunday paper, read it Monday through Friday on campus (thanks for the free copies, if they aren’t being paid for by Valencia), and read online frequently. More often than not, I use the Wall Street Journal in my classes.