Collaborative audit results state that 'dummy' courses do not exist in UH System

Michelle Norton

Staff Writer

The controversy over alleged "dummy" courses continues as the University of Houston Internal Auditing Department released a review May 11 that found the existence of such courses to be unsupported.

Working with the state auditors' white-collar crime unit, the department concluded that students within the UH System were "not enrolled in classes requiring no work, no attendance or no contact with an instructor or (awarded) grades without a basis."

The audit was conducted at the request of UH President/UH-System Chancellor Arthur K. Smith following announcement of the results of a student survey in December.

The alleged dummy course situation was brought to the university's attention in November after an accreditation visit from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

"Based on the auditors' findings, it is clear that our primary problems have been ones of misperception and poor communication," Smith said.

The department polled 237 students, examining both low- and high-risk graduate courses in order to identify irregular enrollment numbers.

The auditors' poll placed greater emphasis on practicum, seminar and independent study courses, which are deemed "high-risk." The auditors chose one student at random from every department in all the colleges at UH.

The study represented a total of 498 course sections, also including "low-risk" courses such as lecture, lab, private lesson and televised instruction classes.

Auditors collected a random sample of graduate students enrolled in low-level courses from the summer 1996 to spring 1998 semesters.

They then used interviews with selected students and explanations from administration and faculty that the courses in question did not fit the criteria for fraudulent courses to determine that no "dummy" courses were being offered.

While advocates of the review find the results conclusive, some students and faculty say they feel that the review was inadequate.

Martha Serpas, a UH graduate with a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing, argues that the audit should have been conducted by an impartial agency.

"The two originally involved in the situation - the state who was not paying attention to UH, and UH, who made book-keeping mistakes - conducted the audit," Serpas said.

According to the internal auditing department Director Don F. Guyton, the audit methodology was carefully scrutinized by both the state auditors' department and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Proponents of the audit maintain, however, that students - the central issue - were not addressed in the audit. According to Mike Hardin, a UH adjunct professor, student teachers are required to take nine hours in order to meet the full-time enrollment requirement in addition to teaching.

Serpas, a former student who says she was enrolled in "dummy" courses, stet, "I paid for courses that did not show up on my transcript in order to be considered a full-time student."

"If they lowered the number of hours students had to take, it would remedy the situation," Hardin said. "However, the current requirement is partially motivated by gross economics."

Serpas proposed that once graduate students finish their required courses, they should not be required to take more in order to teach. "As a teaching assistant, I paid more money for the courses that I did not need than I received for teaching," she said.

"At most major research universities, assistantships include tuition scholarships or awards. That should be investigated for UH as well," UH Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Edward Sheridan said.

Texas presently does not grant graduate student tuition waivers, unlike most states.

The audit called for the establishment of a institutional administration for graduate studies and a review of current compensation for assistantships and minimum requirements for stipend levels.

In the audit, UH officials projected that a graduate studies dean would be appointed this year.

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