A report in the Chronicle of Higher Education details how the UCLA men’s basketball program kept some of its players academically eligible despite missed classes, instances of plagiarism and grade changes that appeared to violate school policy.
The accusations were brought by Will Collier, the basketball team’s academic coordinator until January, when he left for another job. Based on e-mails and documents provided by Collier and interviews with the former academic coordinator, the Chronicle’s Brad Wolverton portrays a program that went to great lengths to make sure its players stayed on the court.
The breaking point for Collier came just before Christmas last year. A Bruins player who had missed numerous classes had received a C-minus in a communications class when he needed a B to remain eligible for team activities. According to Collier, assistant coach Duane Broussard — the team’s academic liaison — approached him about getting the professor to change the grade.
On Dec. 28, the professor of the class said that he and the player had come to an agreement that would allow him to earn a B. “He will attend six classes, actively participating in class discussions in Winter, 2015; and will make a five-minute oral presentation on a John Wooden speech,” the professor wrote to Collier in an e-mail, adding that the player had given a medical excuse for missing class.
According to UCLA school policy, a student’s grade can be changed for one of only two reasons: a miscalculation or an administrative error. Plus, any time an athlete’s grade is changed, “it must be reviewed by the faculty athletics representative to ensure that the athlete did not receive a benefit that is not available to other students,” Wolverton writes.
A school official said UCLA policy was followed in this instance, and Broussard denies pressuring Collier to get the grade changed.
“I didn’t want to be associated with it,” Collier told Wolverton. “It’s not what I got into this for.”
He left the school one month later.
Collier leveled other allegations against the program. A player turned in a midterm exam with two sets of handwriting on it, according to a professor. Another player refused to show an instructor progress he had made on a paper, resulting in a one-term suspension. Yet another was deemed to have plagiarized a paper by UCLA’s dean of students’ office, leading to another suspension.
But both of the suspensions happened during the summer term, and the players were back on the court the following season after writing short papers reflecting on what they had learned. One of the players claimed he was discriminated against by the professor:
“African-American athlete paper is the only paper taken up in a class of 20 very weird to me but it was perceived as normal,” the student wrote.
In his paper, the player criticized Mr. Collier, saying that the incident “could have been settled when I asked my academic advisor to drop my class thinking that my advisor would act as an adult.”
He also had harsh words for the instructor: “I’m not aware of the teacher’s name who reported me,” he wrote. “I tend to often forget names of people with no importance.”
One lesson he learned: “It really has helped me understand how much my coaches fight for me and really have my back,” the player wrote. “Sad to say they are the only ones at UCLA who do.”
Mr. Collier says he asked the coaches if he could read the paper before it was submitted, and urged them not to let the player turn it in. The player eventually wrote a paper that was more contrite.
The Chronicle did not name the players or professors involved, as Collier shared the information on the condition that everyone remain anonymous.
UCLA denies Collier’s accusations and says Collier was to blame for the players’ problems. “UCLA has sought to discredit Mr. Collier, saying he was incompetent and that his inattention to detail led to a series of errors during his 16 months on the job. University officials say he was careless with records, inflexible with students, and unable to build trust with coaches,” Wolverton writes.
However, Collier was never placed on disciplinary probation and received a positive letter of recommendation from the school’s director of student-athlete counseling upon his departure from UCLA.