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Two admissions officers forced out for altering test records

Two top USF admissions officers have resigned after a university audit found them to have deleted standardized test scores from university records to raise USF’s median test scores.

Doug Hartnagel, associate vice president of Enrollment Planning and Management, and Dewey Holleman, director of Undergraduate Admissions, resigned when the university proposed dismissing the two this week.

A report by the Office of University Audit and Compliance, completed Sept. 16, said about 500 SAT scores and 400 ACT scores for first-time-in-college freshmen were deleted between Jan. 4 and Apr. 13 this year. All deleted scores were for students admitted to the university in the summer and fall semesters this year.

Patricia Grossman, associate director of Compliance and Data Management in Undergraduate Admissions, deleted the records under orders from Hartnagel and Holleman, according to the report.

“Unfortunately, the circumstances preceding these resignations are very disturbing. The Office of University Audit and Compliance completed an investigation at the request of the inspector general in Tallahassee,” said Kofi Glover, interim vice president of Student Affairs, in an e-mail to his staff. “The auditors found our Enrollment Planning and Management leaders developed a system to delete student admissions data in order to artificially raise USF’s median SAT and ACT scores. By any standard, this practice was wrong. As a public institution, we have an obligation to ensure we are collecting, maintaining and reporting data according to the highest ethical standards.”

According to the audit report, Hartnagel began analyzing the university’s methods of reporting standardized testing scores last summer. Later, he and Holleman ordered Grossman to delete SAT scores between 760 and 1050 and ACT scores between 14 and 23 for newly admitted students.

Also according to the report, Harold Nixon, former vice president of Student Affairs, had been told that there was a problem with the university’s means of reporting test scores, but Nixon had not been told about the deleting of scores. Hartnagel met with Nixon on May 27 and June 2 last year to discuss SAT reporting.

On June 10, Grossman told inspectors that she had nothing to do with the decision-making process. She said the reason for the deletions, as explained to her, was to remain competitive with other state schools.

The same day, Hartnagel told auditors that, since scores were electronically transmitted to USF, they could not selectively limit the test scores that were accepted into the university systems. The report says it was assumed this meant having to manually delete lower scores in instances where higher test scores were available for a student.

However, this violates Florida’s General Records Schedule, which requires student assessment test results to be retained for at least three fiscal years, the report said.

The report also said the deleting of test scores resulted in incomplete and misleading reports from the university to state and other external agencies.

“We were shocked by the audit’s findings. This is very serious. The integrity of our data is paramount,” USF President Judy Genshaft said in an e-mailed statement. “Fortunately, the auditors found that no admissions decisions were affected by this. Changes were made only to records of students who were already enrolled.”

Replacing the top two admissions officers is the university’s first step toward preventing further tampering. In a press release, USF said it will also implement new safeguards to assure the integrity of admissions data.

Enrollment Planning and Management recently shifted from Student Affairs to Academic Affairs when a consulting firm recommended the reorganization this summer. Also this summer, USF hired a new leader for institutional research, who is responsible for the integrity of data and data reporting at the university.

Hartnagel and Grossman could not be reached for comment Thursday night. Holleman did not return calls to his home Thursday.

Provost Reni Khator is expected to name interim replacements for Hartnagel and Holleman shortly.