University officials were left scrambling to provide answers yesterday, pinned down by a local newspaper article that said the University has steered hundreds of student-athletes toward independent study courses taught by Psychology Prof. John Hagen.

The article, published in yesterday’s edition of The Ann Arbor News, suggested that the courses were easily graded and required a marginal amount of work. Of the 294 independent studies conducted by Hagen between fall 2004 and fall 2007, 251 were with student-athletes, the article said.

According to the Department of Psychology’s website, an independent study course provides students with knowledge and experience in a subject “when a particular area of psychology is not covered by a regular course offering” and that “course content, assignments, meeting times and grade requirements are arranged with a psychology faculty member.”

The News’s story, the first in a four-part series to continue today, cited three former athletic department employees as saying that the Athletic Department – and in particular Shari Acho and Sue Shand, co-directors of the department’s Academic Success Program – used Hagen’s independent studies as a way to improve the grade point averages of student-athletes who otherwise might have become academically ineligible to participate in their sport.

The article reported that 21 student-athletes averaged a 3.62 GPA in 32 Hagen-taught courses – 25 of which were independent study classes. But tn their classes not taught by Hagen those same athletes had a combined GPA of 2.57.

Of the student-athletes who took part in independent studies with Hagen, 48 took two or more. Of those 48, nine took three or more, The News reported.

The article reported that some student-athletes met with Hagen for as little as 15 minutes every two weeks while still earning as many as four credits for the class.

In a statement released yesterday, Hagen dismissed many of the criticisms in the article. He wrote: “So after several months, they have put together whatever they could find – a net full of minnows.” He continued by writing, “This article contains many misstatements of fact, several blatant errors, and the use of information completely out of context.”

He made reference to his “40-plus years teaching hundreds of doctoral and thousands of undergraduate students” and said he is proud of his commitment to diversity and helping students improve their experience at college. He said he would “provide a full reply” at a later time.

A man who answered the phone at Hagen’s home yesterday said Hagen was in New York and unavailable for comment.

In an interview yesterday, Associate Provost Philip Hanlon said he disagreed with many of the claims made in The Ann Arbor News article.

“There is no higher priority of the University than the academic success of our students,” said Hanlon, who first heard about allegations questioning the academic integrity of Hagen’s courses in August. “We will always find a way to do our best to help our students.”

Hanlon said the necessary processes were in place within the Department of Psychology to monitor the integrity of independent study courses.

The faculty member and the student are expected to sign a contract before the independent study which lays out the curricular content of the course, describes how the course will be graded and describes the workload the student should expect.

After reviewing the use of such processes in Hagen’s independent study classes, Hanlon said Hagen “had scrupulously followed them.”

Hanlon also pointed to two separate reviews of Hagen’s classes conducted by Robert Megginson, an associate dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, and the Department of Psychology’s Executive Committee.

The latter study found that there was “no evidence that Hagen gave preferential treatment in grades to student-athletes” and that Hagen’s grading had been “consistent with other independent study courses in the department.”

Hanlon said the study reported that “the content of the courses was appropriate for psychology department course credit” and that “there was no evidence that students weren’t doing the necessary work.”

Hanlon said he didn’t agree with many of the findings in the article and also “really regretted that (The Ann Arbor News) targeted a faculty member who is highly esteemed and did so much to help undergraduates.”

Messages were left with 12 coaches and former or current student-athletes yesterday. After being asked about the article, numerous athletes directed questions to Athletic Department spokespeople.

When asked if the Compliance Office – the University body that ensures that the University acts in accordance with NCAA regulations – was looking into the report about Hagen, Athletic Department spokesman Bruce Madej said the office looks into all aspects of a student-athlete’s life.

“Compliance has a big stake in each and every part of the Athletic Department,” Madej said. “They look at academics as much as travel expenses and recruiting and all other aspects.”

Others with connections to the Athletic Department said the story about Hagen did not represent the student-athlete experience they have witnessed.

“If any of those guys followed our kids around for a day, it would present a balance of things that are going on around here, if they claim things are out of balance,” said Mike McGuire, head coach of the women’s cross country team.

According to The Ann Arbor News, the women’s cross country team was one of two teams, the other being women’s water polo, that hadn’t had an athlete enrolled in an independent study with Hagen since fall 2004.

University spokeswoman Deborah Greene said the University’s Office of Public Affairs and Media Relations put up a website yesterday in response to the allegations leveled at Hagen to “share facts and help put the issues into context.”

– Daily Sports Editor Mark Giannotto contributed to this report.

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