Monday, September 24, 2007

Fixing Students Grades at UMDNJ

Here we go again. We have done a long series of posts about the troubles at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), the largest US health care university.

The university now is operating under a federal deferred prosecution agreement under the supervision of a federal monitor (see most recent posts here, here, here, here and here.) We had previously discussed allegations that UMDNJ had offered no-bid contracts, at times requiring no work, to the politically connected; had paid for lobbyists and made political contributions, even though UMDNJ is a state institution; and seemed to be run by political bosses rather than health care professionals. (See posts here, and here, with links to previous posts.) A recent development (see post here with links to previous posts) was that UMDNJ apparently gave paid part-time faculty positions to some community cardiologists in exchange for their referrals to the University's cardiac surgery program, but not in exchange for any major academic responsibilities. Another was some amazingly wasteful decisions by UMDNJ managers leading to spending millions of dollars for real-estate that now stands vacant (see post here). Another was the indictment of a powerful NJ politician for getting a no-work job in the system, and the indictment of the former dean of the university's osteopathic medicine school for giving him the job (see post here). Most recently, we found out that UMDNJ had named one of its teaching hospitals for a pharmaceutical company in 2001 (see post here).

The very latest story comes to us courtesy of the Newark Star-Ledger,

Paul Mehne was a popular dean on the Camden campus of the state’s medical school, well-liked by the small cadre of students there who felt their satellite program in South Jersey was something special.

What troubled investigators, however, is that none of his students ever seemed to fail. A new report by a federal monitor, scheduled to be released tomorrow, concludes that Mehne doctored the grades of several medical school students, including some now practicing medicine, giving passing test scores to those who came up short on exams needed to begin specialty rotations.

Mehne, 59, associate dean for academic and student affairs who headed the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s Camden campus, was abruptly relieved of his duties three months ago without explanation just weeks before he was scheduled to retire.

In the report, the monitor said some students at Camden were the beneficiaries of what it called 'unethical and inappropriate' activities related to grading.

The report said all grades were first sent to Mehne before being submitted to the registrar. The monitor said Mehne also coerced the directors of medical clerkships - the special rotations taken by third- and fourth-year medical students in areas such as obstetrics or family medicine - to award passing grades to students who did not pass standardized tests.

n one case cited in the monitor’s report, the source said an unidentified student who had failed an exam upon completing a specialty rotation was never retested. The report said Mehne instructed the clerkship director to change the student’s grade on two separate occasions.

According to the sources, no Camden students were brought up before the Academic Standing Committee for grade failures while Mehne was dean, until the monitor began his investigation.

This is a different kind of unethical behavior than that found previously at UMDNJ.

The lesson seems to be that mismanagement and unethical leadership at the top allows all sorts of mischief to flourish among the middle management.

[I must disclose that my first faculty position was at the UMDNJ Camden campus, which I left in 1987.]

ADDENDUM - See also comments on Phi Beta Cons here.

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