- Behind The Scenes
CLAY COUNTY, Miss. (WCBI) - When the NCAA handed down a $60 million fine and other stiff penalties in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, it got the attention of the college athletic world across the country. But it also raised questions about whether anyone has the authority to issue such severe penalties should the same thing happen on the academic side to a well-known professor who brings millions in research dollars and national attention.
The Penn State scandal has gotten the high education community's attention. Across Mississippi, college administrators have double- and triple-checked policies and procedures to try to insure the same kind of missteps and cover up don't happen.
Former IHL Board President Scott Ross says, "There are all kinds of policies in place at the IHL level and at each university level that should prevent this kind of thing."
But Penn State had those kinds of policies in place too. But they did anyway. And now the athletic department specifically and the university as a whole are paying the price from NCAA penalties. But what happens if a similar scenario arises from the academic side of things.
Ross says, "The Southern Association of Colleges and schools or commonly known as SACS is sort of the academic watch dog of all of our universities."
SACS performs something similar to an audit on four-year schools, community colleges and even high schools. If academic shortcomings are severe enough, SACS can pull a schools accreditation which allows students to receive federal aid.
According to Ross, "If they withdraw the accreditation then the students are not eligible to receive any kind of federal assistance and of coarse that would put almost any college out of business."
That's exactly what happened in West Point to Mary Holmes College. Once the students were ineligible for financial aid the college couldn't stay in business and had to close it's doors. But it remains unclear as to whether SACS has the authority to handle punishment if it were to happen in the science department rather than the athletic department. That has many saying it's time to rethink oversight just in case.
Ross says, "I think it's a good time to reexamine our whole process and just to ensure nothing like this could take place in Mississippi."
One possibility that has been suggested is academic arms of college groups, such as the Southeastern Conference, being created to handle academic discipline should it ever be needed. The U.S. Department of Education might be another possibility.
College administrators tell WCBI it's a debate worth having.