Letter: To the Flagler College community
William T. Abare, Jr., Ed.D.
President, Flagler College
St Augustine, FL
During the past two weeks, I was confronted with one of the most difficult challenges of my presidency. As many of you now know, it has been confirmed that Mr. Marc Williar, former vice president of enrollment management, changed test scores required for admission and other profile information of the entering freshmen class in the administrative computer system.
He also admitted that he reported inflated profile data to the U.S. Department of Education, the regional accrediting body, and publications that use the data to rank colleges and universities. When confronted with findings from our preliminary investigation, Mr. Williar resigned and took sole responsibility for changing and misreporting SAT and ACT test scores, high school grade point averages, and high school class ranks of entering freshman, beginning in fall 2010.
We were alerted to this problem when Dr. Craig Woelfel, assistant professor of English, noticed discrepancies in class placements based on established criteria using SAT and ACT scores. Dr. Woelfel had recently been appointed director of the writing program at Flagler, and one of his responsibilities is to oversee the placement of students in proper writing courses based on test scores, high school grades, and essay test results as a part of the First Year Experience program, a high impact academic and student services initiative that was established during the 2012-2013 academic year and implemented in the summer and fall of 2013. Using printouts of data generated by the administrative computer system, Dr. Woelfel found cases of students with test scores that normally would have resulted in the placement of students in higher level English composition courses. He went to the Registrar’s Office and examined the students’ academic records, including hard copies of test scores and high school transcripts, to see if he could find an explanation for what appeared to be improper placements of students in English composition courses. Dr. Woelfel reviewed the files of several students and found that the SAT and ACT scores had been entered in the administrative computer system with inflated scores. Dr. Woelfel reported these discrepancies to Dr. Alan Woolfolk, the vice president of academic affairs, on the evening of Friday, February 7.
After learning of the findings reported by Dr. Woelfel, Dr. Woolfolk enlisted the help of Dr. Will Miller, the director of institutional research and effectiveness, to look into this matter and to try to determine why students were placed in certain classes when their test scores recorded in the administrative computer system should have resulted in a different class placement. Dr. Miller reviewed a sample of students and compared hard copies of test scores in the students’ files in the Registrar’s Office and the test scores that were entered in the administrative computer system. His preliminary review showed that the discrepancies in test scores were more widespread than was first believed.
These preliminary findings were presented to me on Monday, February 10, and I directed Dr. Woolfolk and Dr. Miller to conduct a more thorough review of the discrepancies in test scores. I also directed them to meet with Mr. Joe Provenza, the chief information officer, and Ms. Cathie Loughran, the director of data services, to see if they could determine when the changes were made and who made the changes. Mr. Provenza and Ms. Loughran were able to determine the last dates when data were entered in the administrative computer system and to identify the computer user who entered the inflated data. I learned from Dr. Woolfolk and Dr. Miller that the changes were made by Mr. Williar and that the changes had been made after the entering students had been properly placed in English composition and mathematics courses.
I met with the Board Chairman David Drysdale and Board Vice Chairman Frank Upchurch on Thursday, February 13, to make them aware of the misdeed and to discuss how we should proceed. I met with Mr. Williar on Friday, February 14, with Tricia Kristoff, our human resources generalist. When I confronted Mr. Williar with the information that had been gathered by Dr. Miller, he admitted that he made the changes and that he had misreported data to various organizations, agencies, and other entities. I asked him if other members of his staff were involved in this misdeed, and he said that he acted alone in changing the profile information and reporting the inflated data. He resigned, and I accepted his resignation.
I want to emphasize that students were admitted to the College on their own merit, and were not admitted on the basis of falsified data. From what we have learned so far, the changes in test scores occurred after the students had been accepted for admission to the College and after they had been placed in their English composition and mathematics classes. It is also important to note that the misreporting of information that is used for admission to the College does not affect the standing of currently enrolled students and it does not affect their academic records at Flagler.
The action taken by one individual is a serious breach of one of our core values: integrity. His misdeed has violated the trust of all our students, faculty members, staff members, alumni, parents,donors, and friends of our college. On behalf of the Flagler College family, I offer my sincerest apology to our stakeholders and our constituents for this violation of trust.
I want to inform you of the steps we are taking to handle this very serious situation. We have commissioned an independent investigation, which is being conducted by the McGuireWoods law firm in Jacksonville. That investigation is underway. We have also engaged Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte to serve as special counsel to oversee the investigation and to prepare the final report with its findings and recommendations. Sandy D’Alemberte is a former president of Florida State University and a former president of the American Bar Association. We will disclose the findings of the independent investigation once we receive the final report.
We have notified appropriate organizations, agencies, and the regional accrediting body of the results of the College’s preliminary review and have informed them that we will disclose the results of the independent investigation as soon as it is completed.
We are also conducting a thorough review of all processes and procedures pertaining to the reporting of profile information to various entities, and we will develop policies, procedures, and systems to ensure that data are recorded accurately in the administrative computer system, that data are verified by two other offices on campus, and that data are reported accurately in a timely manner to various organizations, agencies, and accrediting bodies. A team composed of administrators, faculty, and staff will lead this effort and will make recommendations that we will review, approve, and implement.
We will conduct a national search to fill the position of vice president for enrollment management. The selection of a search firm will be made this week, and we will embark upon the search right away. I am confident that we will find a highly qualified individual who will embrace our culture and effectively lead our admissions and enrollment efforts.
Flagler College has a proud history of providing an outstanding academic experience for students. We have a strong commitment to teaching and student learning at the undergraduate level. Members of our faculty are engaged in scholarship and research and have published countless articles and books, have presented papers at conferences of learned societies, and have contributed in numerous ways to the advancement of knowledge in their fields of study.
Our students flourish under the mentorship of professors and staff who care for students, inspire them to learn, and push them to reach beyond what they perceive as their limits. Our students have been accepted into top graduate schools, including Columbia University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, New York University, Princeton Theological Seminary, the University of Florida, the University of Notre Dame, and Duke University. Our pre-law program continues to place students in top-50 law schools across the nation, including Boston University, the College of William and Mary, Columbia University, Emory University, Florida State University, George Mason University, Georgetown University, New York University, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Southern Methodist University, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Iowa, University of North Carolina, University of Notre Dame, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University, and Washington and Lee University.
Our alumni have gone on to successful careers as teachers, school administrators, college administrators, college teachers, coaches, counselors, businesspersons, accountants, attorneys, judges, graphic designers, actors, theater technicians, broadcasters, public relations persons, journalists, filmmakers, financial advisors, financial consultants, and youth ministers. Some of the companies at which recent graduates are now employed include Ernst & Young, Merrill Lynch, Barclays, NBC News, Google, Wal-Mart, NASA, St. Johns County School District, Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, the Florida State Attorney’s Office, Universal Studios, Walt Disney World, the PGA Tour, and the Wimbledon Tennis Association, to name just a few.
Our Society for Advancement of Management teams have won an unprecedented ten national management case competitions. Last April, our Enactus student entrepreneurial team won its third national championship and represented the United States in the World Cup competition this past September. Communication and Gargoyle students won more than 20 journalism awards, including the College’s first-ever national Society of Professional Journalists award. Our education alumni have been named “teachers of the year” in numerous school districts. Two of our students were recently accepted to a National Science Foundation research program. For the third time, our athletics program was named the Peach Belt Conference Institution of the Year for sportsmanship.
Integrity, accountability, and transparency are values that we embrace as an institution of higher education. This one misdeed does not define our institution nor does it diminish all the positive accomplishments that have been achieved during the past 45 years.
I am confident that we will get through this unfortunate situation, because of the dedication and commitment of our administration faculty, staff, and trustees, and because of the strong support of our alumni, donors, and friends.
I have been gratified by the outpouring of support from our Flagler College family, and I am grateful for all that you have done and will do in the days ahead to help us get through this situation and emerge as a stronger institution.