Blog: Corruption at Traditional Schools Not as Appealing as Allegations Targeting For-Profits

By Kevin Kuzma, Online Editor

There are accusations and hearsay. And then there is evidence and actual improprieties. One would seemingly trump the other in the judgment of the Department of Education (DOE,) an organization supposedly driven by preserving certain standards for higher education by enforcing rules to punish the rambunctious. Instead, over the last year or more, we’ve seen the DOE make more allegations about career colleges and take actions based on the mere possibility of wrongdoing than respond to instances facing traditional colleges and universities where the transgressions are actually taking place.

On Tuesday, Yahoo Sports detailed an ongoing NCAA investigation involving the University of Miami and a former booster, Nevin Shapiro. Now serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, Shapiro told Yahoo Sports that he provided impermissible benefits to at least 72 athletes during 2002-10. His accusations implicated three football coaches and three basketball coaches at the university.

Originally intending to share his tales in a tell-all book, Shapiro decided instead to collaborate with Yahoo Sports. The news organization conducted more than 100 hours of interviews with Shapiro over an 11-month investigation and audited of thousands of pages of financial, business and cell phone records. The investigation paints a disturbing picture of sports at Miami. Shapiro said benefits he provided to athletes at Miami “included but were not limited to cash, prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play (including bounties for injuring opposing players), travel and, on one occasion, an abortion” for a woman impregnated by a player.

Miami is not alone. Ohio State, Oregon, USC, Kentucky, and a host of other athletic programs are now under investigation for infractions.

Now … whose tax payer dollars are being wasted again? Actual corruption like this at a for-profit institution would warrant Senate hearings, a couple PBS documentaries – including one in which an angle involving military students is determined and exploited – and an endless wave of other negative publicity featuring interviews with two or three dissatisfied students. The entire career college sector would come under fire and be implicated. Not just the school where the improprieties were discovered, but the entire industry.

Corruption is everywhere and it’s irresponsible for the DOE to pretend it’s prevalent in one sector more than another. Our sector, because it has the poise not to hide behind its for-profit responsibilities, weathers each wave of negative publicity that washes over, while serious issues are allowed to transpire again and again elsewhere in the higher education world.

Try as they might, the professorship and the more academic-minded faculty at traditional colleges and universities cannot disavow an athletic department’s connections to the university.

In the ideal situation, a school’s athletic endeavors are kept entirely separate from the goings-on inside the classroom. The academics can oversee this much of the relationship. What the players bring to the university as members of the athletic team, which are usually the most prominent ambassadors for NCAA schools, should not be factor in a player’s grades or performance in the classroom to the world they might participate in after class.

But even when that ethical arrangement can be adhered to, the athletic departments still represent an academic institution. The failings that occur inside one department should be a reflection on the university’s values as a whole. And academic or not, you can’t hide from the negative perception that corruption rains on your institution. Ask administrators at career colleges, where negative news impacts the bottom line, student perceptions, and sometimes the mindset of faculty and staff.

The situation at the University of Miami is unfortunate, but a problem that will be handled. This is what the opinion will be at the DOE. The NCAA will deal with these allegations and deal out its punishments, whether we believe them to be appropriate or not. That, in itself, is an example of the double standard that faces career education in this country. One sector is left to police itself while the corruption goes on and on, moves from school to school, with no end in sight. The other sector is regulated heavily and chastised for its occasional mistakes with a looming threat of outright obliteration.

Traditional schools are more favored than career colleges. They are more distinguished … and that distinction let’s them get away with nearly everything but murder.

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