UTD professors did not commit academic fraud in police program scandal, tribunal says

An exterior shot of the University of Texas at Dallas.
An exterior shot of the University of Texas at Dallas.

A University of Texas-Dallas tribunal recommended this week that two professors accused of academic fraud should not be fired and found no evidence of fraud after a two-day hearing last month.

The criminology professors, Robert Taylor and John Worrall, said the university publicly scapegoated them over a police program that the school claimed granted students credits for courses they did not take.

The university accused Taylor, Worrall and fellow professor Galia Cohen of academic fraud, saying the program’s credit system, where students took off-campus classes and received school credit, was not up to UTD standards. The university moved to fire the three professors.

However, Taylor, Worrall and Cohen said the administration has known about the program since July 2016 and explicitly supported it.

A tribunal made up of three UTD faculty found no grounds to fire Worrall and Taylor and recommended to University President Richard Benson that the professors should not be fired. Benson will now review the tribunal’s findings and can either decide to dismiss the matter or impose sanctions short of termination against the professors.

“The faculty tribunal delivered its reports and recommendations to the President. The President will carefully consider the reports before taking any action,” UTD spokesman John Walls said.

The university dropped termination proceedings against Cohen in April.

The tribunal determined the credit-transfer practice in the police program was improper from an academic integrity standpoint, but said Worrall and Taylor believed the process was legitimate and well known to university officials. Additionally, the professors did not intentionally mislead UTD and all funds were used for “noble purposes” in the program, the tribunal said.

In letters to Benson about their findings, the tribunal said the police program “served a worthy purpose to the Dallas law enforcement community.” The tribunal also said the university could not point to any official policy that the professors should have followed to transfer students’ credit.

“The continuation of the practice resulted from a lack of communication among administrative lines,” the letter states.

Trey Atchley, UT system chief inquiry officer, testified at the hearing that he found no evidence of misuse of funds, personal financial gain by the professors or an intent to defraud UTD when he was asked by the university to investigate the police program.

The professors’ lawyer, Frank Hill, said university officials violated due process in their handling of the investigation. Hill said the university violated privacy laws by releasing termination letters against the professors to the Dallas Morning News, which published an investigative story on the program. The university also released the letters to the Star-Telegram after an open records request.

In a transcript of the hearing, Hill also said the professor who originally complained about the police program lied on his resume and was not a credible source. Hill said that professor previously filed separate grievances against Cohen and Worrall, both of which were denied.

Cohen, Worrall and Taylor filed a lawsuit against the university in February. In response to the lawsuit, a spokeswoman for UTD previously said the university had “acted lawfully in all respects with regard to all individuals involved with this matter and will not comment further on pending litigation.”

The legal battle centered on the Justice Administration and Leadership Graduate Program, in which students would enroll in a UTD course, take an equivalent course elsewhere and receive UTD credit for it.

The parallel courses took place at the Caruth Police Institute and Institute for Law Enforcement Administration, both of which collaborated with UTD to offer graduate law enforcement programs, according to the suit.

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Kaley Johnson is a breaking news and enterprise reporter. She majored in investigative reporting at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has a passion for bringing readers in-depth, complex stories that will impact their lives. Send your tips via email or Twitter.