The great illusion that the University of Florida is the “best” collegiate institution in the state of Florida seems to rest on two things…their modern dominance in the athletic arena and the perceived academic excellence of their students. However, UF has shown great skill in their ability to deceive the public (as well as their own alumni) to create this academic supremacy illusion. And it may be their very own athletic program morality blemishes that are beginning to give them away.
To begin with, UF has done a fantastic job at bottling up the fact that cheating is a long-embraced practice passed down among students in practically every undergraduate department of the institution. While those who are caught can and do get punished, since UF just like any university has its own “Honor Code,” it often takes great mistakes for a student or group of students to get busted, since the way has been paved by them so delicately by generations of students before them. Despite UF officials’ great efforts to keep these secrets bottled up, every now and then stories leak out to reveal the underlying problem with UF undergraduate culture. In March 2012, the independent UF Alligator publication released a story entitled “University of Florida Students Caught Cheating on Computer Science Projects” (http://www.alligator.org/news/campus/article_8f6af304-6cc8-11e1-9d89-0019bb2963f4.html). The story notes the disdain of one of the students left holding the bag for an incident where she and nearly 100 students were caught cheating (caught and turned in by other grad students).
“Julie Rothe, an 18-year-old finance and information systems freshman, said she plans to accept responsibility. But she will challenge the penalty, she said, because students cheated in years past.
‘I’m really angry at the fact that students got away with this in earlier semesters,’ she said. ‘We are taking the hit, and I believe that is unfair.’”
Her statement is very revealing for two reasons. One, she notes it was common practice for past students to cheat in this class and to NOT get caught. And secondly, even more revealing, is how she feels it is “unfair” she got busted. In a normal university culture, this type of scandal would be so severe that a student would feel just grateful for not being kicked out of the program, not to mention very remorseful and apologetic over what they did. But not this student. She is “angry”; it is “unfair!” Few things better reveal the state of UF’s accepted academic culture than the sentiments of this student.
The NY Times covered a story about cheating in their article entitled “To Stop Cheats, Colleges Learn Their Trickery” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/06/education/06cheat.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0):
“A first-year M.B.A. student, Ashley Haumann, said that when she was an undergraduate at the University of Florida, ‘everyone cheated’ in her accounting class of 300..”
Interesting statement. Multiple universities are mentioned in the article with other students interviewed, but no others had the confidence to announce that “everyone” cheated, as if it were no big deal so long as the whole course was involved in it together.
The cheating problem at UF has not completely escaped the awareness of UF officials. In 2010, this article came out entitled “UF looks at how to handle rising cheating violations”: http://www.gainesville.com/article/20100228/ARTICLES/2281003.
The article notes that there were “299 cheating violations handled last year by the University of Florida’s Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution office, an increase of almost 120 cases – or 66 percent – from the previous year and more than double the number five years before.”
This article entitled “Cheating Rarely Draws Stiffest Punishments” from the same publication in February 2010 (http://www.gainesville.com/article/20100228/articles/2281004) points out that cheating is happening a lot, even getting caught, and very few times resulting in significant punishment:
“Students typically face sanctions for academic dishonesty at UF but rarely receive the most serious punishments, according to figures provided by UF’s office of student conduct and conflict resolution. Just two of the 607 cases sent to the office from 2007 through earlier this month have resulted in expulsions, and just 18 have resulted in suspensions, those figures show.”
So why SHOULD UF students be held to a higher moral than their predecessors? Or even their professors for that matter?? In 2008, a UF English professor James Twitchell “admitted to plagiarizing in several of his books.” The scandal at UF was so great, it resulted in an internal ethics inquiry into the department. (http://www.theledger.com/article/20080426/NEWS/804260420 ) The professor has been at UF since 1972. And guess what folks… even after this shameful incident, he is STILL THERE!
The problem has clearly been most evident in UF athletics. The past 20 years, UF teams have suddenly become a dominant force in nearly every sport both in their conference and nationally, seemingly out of the clear blue. Suddenly record numbers of top level recruits are signing their letters of intent to go to Gainesville. Is it possible that among their reasons for doing so, they have been assured that they will be protected from academic, or even criminal, missteps during their collegiate career? Many instances would lend you to suspect that this IS in fact the case. And the players knew it, especially those who played for former coach Urban Meyer, as unveiled in this revealing 2012 Sporting News expose: http://www.sportingnews.com/ncaa-football/story/2012-04-09/urban-meyer-florida-ohio-state-ncaa-violation-recruiting-drugs-program-will-musc.
Cam Newton gained notoriety for his amazing play on the field at Auburn prior to bursting onto the scene for the Carolina Panthers in the NFL. However, his off the field legal problems as well as multiple credible reports that he and his father had taken heavy bribes along the way during his college path are what tarnish his success as an athlete. And that path began at… you guessed it… University of Florida. This 2010 article from the Miami Herald (http://miamiherald.typepad.com/gator_clause/2010/11/newton-wasnt-necessarily-facing-expulsion-with-gators.html) makes note of how Cam Newton cheating reports were a common thing at UF prior to his early departure:
“Less than a week after reports surfaced that a man [ultimately Newton’s father] solicited money from Mississippi State to ensure Newton would transfer there, FOXSports.com (reports) that Newton was popped three times for academic cheating while at Florida. UF had no comment on the situation, citing federal laws protecting student privacy.”
How convenient. Federal laws protecting student privacy. Well, I guess UF officials have all their bases covered.
The story doesn’t stop there. It also notes:
“Assuming it is, that means Newton got caught cheating as a freshman and then, after his run-in (and throw-out) with police in November 2008 over a stolen laptop, he got in trouble two more times because of a paper. First, he allegedly put his name on another student’s paper and turned it in, and after he was given a second chance, he turned in a paper he bought on the Internet… Anyway, after these two incidents, Newton was supposedly due to appear before a student conduct committee but left rather than face consequences. Still, it’s no sure thing he would have been expelled. UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said UF expels between one and two students a year and suspends about 10, but both numbers are skewed by students leaving before the hammer drops.
“There are no automatic consequences at the University of Florida,” Sikes said. “It depends on the totality of the issues. Each one is a case-by-case basis, and they really mean that. There is no single ‘If you do this, this is what happens.’”
Here we have another VERY telling segment about UF culture. That there really is NO punishment standard for cheating at UF and that “case by case” standards, clearly depending on the importance of the student, will be used in decisions on whether or not to punish. Another interesting note by Sikes above is that 1-2 students a year are expelled and about 10 suspended for cheating… very small number considering the article linked earlier that noted nearly 300 student cheating violations a year that were being CAUGHT.
Combining this information with the knowledge of the 30+ arrests of UF football players that occurred over the years under Meyer’s tenure over CRIMINAL issues, I guess it is no shock that guys like Aaron Hernandez of the Patriots felt no reason to worry that killing another man (or men) could possibly lead to punishment of any kind. After all, Hernandez himself was spending his time at UF flashing pistols and getting in trouble all the time with no repercussions. This article, entitled “Hernandez gun photo punctuates Meyer’s shameful disciplinary record at UF”, tells an eye opening story: http://mrsec.com/2013/06/hernandez-gun-photo-punctuates-meyers-shameful-disciplinary-record-at-uf/
Sadly it has taken the Hernandez case to open the media’s eyes to the morality problems that proliferate at the University of Florida. A recent July 2013 Yahoo Sports article (http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nfl-shutdown-corner/aaron-hernandez-involved-bar-fight-gainesville-2007-152853570.html) reviewed the multiple known discretions of Hernandez at UF and how it appeared his legal discretions always would mysteriously disappear, including one Gainesville bar fight incident where Hernandez punched a restaurant employee because he didn’t want to pay the bill, subsequently costing the man his hearing. Police had recommended a felony battery charge, yet the case simply just faded away like problems often do for cheaters and criminals in Gainesville. As noted in the article …
“Perhaps questions could be directed towards the University of Florida, whose athletic director, Jeremy Foley, has recently taken issue with the reports about Hernandez’s three-year stint in Gainesville. Between this latest incident coming to light, Hernandez being questioned about a shooting in Gainesville in 2007, and the failed drug tests, it is surprising that Hernandez missed only one game due to suspension during his three seasons with the Gators.”
I guess the argument can now be made that with Meyer gone, the cheating culture of the UF football team will come to an end. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Will Muschamp, current UF football coach, just recently has been implicated in a scandal that may dwarf any that Meyer could have been tied to. (http://www.saturdaydownsouth.com/2013/ncaa-violations-auburn-muschamp/) An ex-Auburn football player Mike McNeil has reported that he and other players were payed CASH as Auburn players while Muschamp was the defensive coordinator there. One particular incident apparently occurred as recently as 2007:
“McNeil recalls having a difficult day at practice in 2007 and then-defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, calling him into his office. “I had no clue what it was about because I’d never directly asked him for anything,” says McNeil. “He slid about $400 over to me. He went into a drawer and gave me money and said, ‘Is this enough? Is this good?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m good.’” Muschamp, now the head football coach at the University of Florida, denied the payment through a spokesperson.”
Weird seeing this latest accusation beginning to gather dust as the NCAA keeps nit-picking other programs for lesser violations. It is interesting that most folks know about the widely publicized stories where the NCAA went after a program, but they rarely hear about these buried stories since the NCAA seemingly never comes after SEC powerhouses during their reins of dominance. Perhaps that speaks more of the culture of the NCAA and their SEC loyalty that may or may not have long ago been bought. However, it does make one wonder how a graduate, athlete or not, of an SEC school, particularly Florida, can ever go out into society and expect the types of breaks in real life that they always got while cheating their way through college. Nobody at UF has done any of these kids a favor. Just ask Aaron Hernandez.