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FL: Scandal strikes Flagler College when grade enhancements uncovered

Every good watchdog knows the importance of preserving the public trust; and, in both journalism and pre-law classes held at St Augustine’s prestigious Flagler College, the students spend considerable time during their four-year education learning about professional ethics.

On last Friday, however, the normal hustling of undergraduates and the noise of papers shuffling and books being slapped down onto library tables, was interrupted by the voice of the President of the College, William T. Abare Jr., as he announced some portentous news.

A man of few words during the best of times, this afternoon’s announcement would be brief — even by Dr. Abare’s standards.

Driven by motives not entirely understood at this time, Marc Williar, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Flagler College, handed in his resignation and accepted sole responsibility for student test scores, grade point averages, and class ranks among freshman entering the college that were misreported to the media and certain evaluating agencies between the fall of 2010 and the fall of 2013.

It is fair to report that the community was shocked — many professionals, including Historic City News editor Michael Gold, attended and graduated from those hallowed halls; knowing full well the strict schedule adherence policies, tight assignment deadlines, reading and research assignments always on the horizon, and years of academic work invested in a Flagler College education. How could this have happened?

According to Dr. Abare and Flagler’s preliminary investigation, the changes were made only after students were accepted and placed in classes. So it didn’t affect who was let in, but the data that was reported to outside ranking organizations like U.S. News and other organizations.

On a sprawling campus that once was the resort retreat of 19th Century oil barons and a who’s-who of high society in the Gilded Age, boasting scores of stained glass windows and chandeliers by none other than Louis Tiffany, the first electrically lighted guest rooms and generators wired by Thomas Edison, and the ultimate in luxurious accommodations of the time, repurposed for modern classrooms and dormitories, it is hard to imagine a want or need for anyone to falsify their academic accomplishments.

Fraud is fraud. Whether it is academic fraud, insurance fraud, tax fraud, or fraudulent spending by unscrupulous government employees with access to municipal, state, or national government credit cards, fraud is fraud. As watchdogs, its our responsibility to be diligent and to ask the tough questions.

I feel compelled to add that Dr Abare has taken the appropriate steps to contain this disappointing turn of events. Despite his 20+ years of service and recent awards for service to the college community, Williar was dropped like a hot potato. That had to hurt, but it was the right thing to do. It remains to be seen how the accrediting bodies will view the overall role of the institution in the incident, but Abare has gotten in front of this mess and is not trying to sweep it quietly under the rug. There’s a good public relations lesson to be learned from this. When there’s smoke, there’s fire. Had Abare tried to hide the flames, they would have consumed him and any academic credibility the college ever had. He took the tough path, and news reporters can see that — they are covering the story, of course, because it is newsworthy. But they aren’t badgering Abare and they are giving him and his administration an opportunity to get their affairs back in order. I think everyone is really glad to see things moving in that direction.

Photo credits: © 2014 Historic City News staff photographer

Michael Gold

St Augustine native, Michael Gold, is editor at Historic City News. He is an advocate for grassroots citizen journalism whose job is holding public figures accountable to the public. Founded on the Internet in March 2000, HCN has developed from a periodic newsletter, to an interactive platform, to a publication read by the area's most engaged citizens. Historic City News is focused on news originating from or having an impact on St Augustine and St Johns County. Contact by e-mail

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Categories: Education, Must Read
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