A message from the president of UT Dallas.
The University of Texas at Dallas - Office of the President

Statement Regarding the JAL Executive Education Program

Feb. 6, 2019

A recent Dallas Morning News story outlined issues surrounding the Justice Administration and Leadership (JAL) executive education program at The University of Texas at Dallas. Because of the gravity of the matter and some potentially mistaken impressions related to University action, we want to address, as best we can, the issues at hand.

Let us start with the origins of the program and its worthy purpose. Created in 2012, the JAL program was intended to provide criminal justice administration professionals with a tailored curriculum and degree to promote career advancement. Its structure accommodated the constraints of their ongoing full-time employment. However in late 2017, we discovered a problem with the way the program was awarding academic transfer credit to a small subset of students.

The facts show that the University has been transparent by fully disclosing this issue with our accrediting body and with The University of Texas System immediately after it was discovered. Over the course of the past year, UT Dallas has been in close contact with representatives from both entities to ensure that we were appropriately addressing this issue. We have not yet closed the books on this situation, but we have made significant progress.

In December 2017, the then-dean of graduate studies informed the provost about a report from a criminology faculty member stating that a student who was enrolled in their course said that they had an exemption and would not be attending class. The student was promised a grade in the course by JAL program leaders and was told that they need not attend class nor submit any assignments.

Immediately upon receiving this information, the provost shared it with the rest of the UT Dallas central administration. They responded swiftly with three priorities:
  1. Transparency: UT Dallas immediately informed its parent organization, the UT System, and its accreditation organization, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), of the allegations.
  2. Investigation: Inquiries were sent immediately to the administrators of the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences (EPPS), the Criminology Program, and the Justice Administration and Leadership program to determine the extent of the issue.
  3. Students: The University sought to ensure the welfare of the students involved, as much as possible, under the assumption that they had innocently followed instructions from the JAL leadership.
Criminal justice professionals who had participated in the training courses offered by two local organizations — the Caruth Police Institute and the Institute for Law Enforcement Administration — had been recruited to the UT Dallas JAL program with the promise that the coursework offered through those institutes would be counted toward the requirements of the UT Dallas master’s degree. While use of transfer credits from one institution to another is standard academic practice, the origins of those credits must be properly noted on official transcripts. Instead, it appears that the leadership of the JAL program chose to provide credit for students’ work at the institutes by the totally improper method described by the student. According to our records, fewer than 90 degrees have been awarded, and less than 20 percent of the graduates were affected by the transfer credit issue. From what we have found, only a few faculty members were involved.

Evidence suggests that the faculty directing the JAL program requested in 2015 that the then-dean of graduate studies authorize transfers of credit for coursework from the institutes for the requirements of the JAL degree. However, based on a lack of any substantive rationale regarding the equivalence of the institute coursework to UT Dallas coursework, the dean denied the request.

After this refusal, instead of renewing their request to the dean with more complete documentation, the program leadership apparently decided to continue providing students with credit for their institute work by the method described by the student. Specifically, it appears that students who had taken classes at the institutes were told to register at UT Dallas for JAL courses deemed by the JAL leadership to be equivalent to courses they had taken at the institutes. They were told that they need not attend those classes or do class assignments, but nevertheless would receive an “A” for those classes. The motivation for this falsification of our academic records seems to have been to increase enrollment in competition with other universities in the region that granted transfer credit for those institute courses.

It is not clear how much other faculty members of the Criminology Program or the EPPS administrators knew of this plan. What is clear is that it appears to have been carefully hidden from the central UT Dallas academic administration. For example, in accordance with our policies, as required by state statute, the JAL program was reviewed comprehensively by a committee that included external reviewers in 2017. Nowhere in a 24-page self-study presented by the JAL leadership, nor in any discussion with the Program Review Committee, did any aspect of this matter, or any mention of relations or arrangements with the institutes, receive any mention.

The months following the discovery of this violation of our academic rules were consumed with doing what should have been done in 2015: namely, establishing formal transfer agreements with the institutes, dealing with the consequences experienced by that segment of JAL students who had participated in the arrangement, and initiating a variety of corrective actions. The faculty administrators in charge of the JAL program and of the school of EPPS were removed from their administrative positions. The University ceased admitting new students into the JAL program.

In addition, as The Dallas Morning News story reported, disciplinary action is ongoing for three individuals. Due process requires that these proceedings follow UT System policy and these individuals be afforded all of the rights and opportunities under such policy. Given that the faculty disciplinary process requires the direct involvement of the University president and provost, it would be inappropriate for either to comment further on the matter, to the Dallas Morning News or otherwise.

As far as the finances involving this program, the tuition that was collected was used to pay the operating expenses of the JAL program, and at the end of the fiscal year, the net revenue was split: 60 percent to the Criminology Program and 40 percent to the EPPS School to assist with their educational mission. There has been no evidence indicating any expenditures violated University policies or were otherwise improper. Like all executive education programs, JAL received no state support and, thus, was entirely funded by tuition.

Moreover, the academic essentials of showing the UT System and SACSCOC that UT Dallas had taken all appropriate corrective actions was accomplished by April 2018, and we have been encouraged throughout this process by the highly positive and supportive responses that our actions have received from both organizations.

In the SACSCOC reaffirmation preliminary report, it is noted, “that the institution’s senior leadership acted swiftly upon learning about this matter.”

The report goes on to say that institutional leadership “acted in an open, honest, and collegial manner, providing unfettered access to relevant individuals and documentation. ... It is the Committee’s opinion that these factors provide evidence of the institution’s integrity regarding all documentation and reporting of compliance with applicable standards and requirements.”

At its December 9, 2018 meeting, the SACSCOC Board of Trustees reaffirmed UT Dallas’ accreditation, with no additional reports requested. The full text of the Preliminary Report of the Reaffirmation Committee can be found here.

Since the discovery of the problem, the University has also strengthened the administrative oversight of its transfer credit policy to ensure the integrity of our credit system. Moving forward, we expect that our faculty and staff will continue to be vigilant to ensure a rigorous credit awards system.

In summary, we will always take action to protect the integrity of a degree from The University of Texas at Dallas. Our faculty, staff, students, alumni — and indeed our state — depend on us to maintain and advance the value of a degree. We accepted nothing less in December 2017 when we first learned of the problem, and will accept nothing less now.

Sincerely,

Richard C. Benson
President
Eugene McDermott Distinguished University Chair of Leadership


The University of Texas at Dallas
800 W. Campbell Rd, Richardson, Texas 75080-3021

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