Tampa Tribune Editorial
USF Compromises Integrity Dodging Athletic Cheating Scandal
The Tampa Tribune
Published: January 9, 2008
The University of South Florida's refusal to investigate allegations that football star Ben Moffitt cheated in his classes shows an appalling disregard for academic integrity.
The university promoted Moffitt as the football star/family man, but now that his estranged wife says she wrote his papers and took two online classes for him, USF's leadership doesn't seem interested.
USF President Judy Genshaft is taking cover under a student handbook provision that says only a professor can initiate a cheating investigation. It's a ridiculous policy, since the professor is often the last to know a student is cheating.
USF spokesman Ken Gullette even dismissed Shauna Moffitt's account as a "domestic dispute." No way. The accusations involve potential fraud at the university. USF brass should be eager to determine the truth.
Newly appointed Provost Ralph Wilcox belatedly issued a statement Monday saying that the university takes its academic credibility seriously. But not enough, apparently, to want to find out if Moffitt made a mockery of his education.
The administration says it will address allegations if they are supported by evidence. But how can USF obtain evidence without investigating?
It appears USF just wants the controversy to go away. Moffitt is due to graduate and be off to the NFL, leaving the university to face any NCAA sanctions.
But this not about football or even the effort USF made to showcase Moffitt, the All-American linebacker who married his high school sweetheart and is raising two small children while making a name for himself in football.
The issue here is whether Moffitt earned the degree USF is about to award him and whether he fulfilled his end of the football scholarship bargain.
Shauna Moffitt contends she wrote papers for her husband and took some of his online courses. She says she typed the papers while on the job at the Sumter County Property Appraiser's Office.
Her boss, Ronnie Hawkins, already is trying to determine how much time Shauna Moffitt might have spent on her husband's homework and intends to recoup that money for the taxpayers.
"It's the principle of the thing," Hawkins told us. "I don't care if it's a nickel or a dime. It's what's fair for the taxpayers."
Compare that swift response to USF's shoulder shrugging.
The claims may turn out to be false. One does wonder how Shauna Moffitt managed to write papers for her communications major husband when she hadn't attended the lectures or read the materials.
But online courses - which are becoming prevalent as universities try to manage overcrowding - are not particularly secure against cheaters. Florida State University learned the hard way when at least 50 student-athletes were implicated in an online cheating scandal.
There must be tighter controls, such as requiring that tests for online courses be given on campus where students' identification can be checked. Some universities use Web cams to ensure students can't use a ringer.
USF needs to make clear it expects the highest ethical standards of its students in the classroom and on the playing field.
When it chooses to simply look the other way, it sends an entirely different, and dismaying, message about its commitment to academic excellence and personal integrity.