Paying cheaters may pay price
Thirty-four students charged in grade scandal
August 29, 2007 10:03 PM
SF State has barred six students from enrolling in classes and rescinded acceptance to another two after the university learned the students paid to have their transcripts falsified while attending Diablo Valley College, the Admissions Office said last Thursday.
The eight students — with only one identified by authorities — have been accused of paying hourly employees in the DVC Admissions and Records Office in Pleasant Hill to make the changes; an operation that ran from 2000 until January 2006 when a professor at the school uncovered the plot and alerted administrators, according to a complaint filed by the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office on July 20.
According to Jo Volkert, the executive director of Admissions at SF State, five students used falsified transcripts to gain acceptance and take classes at SF State. Two students, who applied for the fall 2007 semester, had their acceptance rescinded and another student, who attended SF State prior to DVC will not be allowed to return, she said. The punishments were handed out by an executive order from the CSU Chancellor's Office.
Volkert received corrected transcripts from DVC and called the crimes "disturbing."
"The part that strikes me on a personal level the most and is disheartening to think of is the lengths students would go (to falsify grades)," she said.
Christopher MacAtulad, who paid more than $4,000 to change 15 grades, is the only SF State student prosecutors have identified. Volkert would not disclose the other identities of the alleged, but did ensure that the individuals have received a letter explaining that they will not be accepted to or cannot enroll at the university now or in the future.
The destinations of the transfer students were limited to the ones DVC sent to the District Attorney's Office and Dodie Katague, the deputy district attorney of the high tech crimes division, said his department is not concerned about which school students transferred to but what crimes they committed. Diablo Valley refused to release information on where students, who weren't already noted, transferred to.
MacAtulad, who is out of jail on bond, has been charged with one felony to conspire count, and is facing arraignment on Sept. 17 at the Contra Costa County Superior Courthouse in Martinez. MacAtulad could not be reached and did not respond to e-mails.
Attorneys representing twelve of the accused, who have already been arraigned, met at the Martinez Courthouse Tuesday to discuss a schedule for preliminary hearings. At the meeting, no dates were set and Katague said he suspects there will be dispositions with much of the alleged pleading guilty to their charges on the next set date, Oct. 10.
Prosecutors said MacAtulad used his falsified transcript to transfer to SF State in the fall of 2006 after taking out more than $4,000 in credit card cash advances to pay for 15 grade changes. In all, 34 students have been charged in the case. Alleged ringleader Julian Revilleza, who was an hourly student employee at DVC, is facing 23 felony counts and could serve up to 70 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
According to the complaint, MacAtulad met with DVC student employee Francis Antonio, who prosecutors say "knowingly and unlawfully" accessed a computer to alter grades, several times between June 2005 and January 2006.
At the meetings, according to documents, MacAtulad gave Antonio his student ID number and a list of grade change requests. Antonio then forwarded the information to Revilleza who accessed the computer system and made changes. Revilleza changed eight of MacAtulad's Fs to six Bs and two Cs. He also changed four Ws (withdrawals) to one A and three Bs, prosecutors said. Two of the Fs, in two different psychology classes taken in the fall of 2001, were changed to Bs in September of 2005. In the fall of 2005, MacAtulad's altered transcript showed he took seven classes and received four Bs, two Cs and an A. Those grades had been changed from three Fs and four Ws, according to prosecutors.
DVC is the second biggest feeder community college to SFSU behind City College of San Francisco. The Pleasant Hill school sent 334 students to the university after the spring of 2006, according to the California Postsecondary Education Commission's report on transfer pathways. According to CPEC, DVC accounted for 8 percent of SFSU's total number of transfer students after the 2005-06 school year. DVC has sent an average of about 280 a year to SFSU for the last 15 years, CPEC's numbers showed.
Documents show that alleged ringleaders met with customers in places like Sears and 24-Hour Fitness and that students handed over hundreds of dollars in white envelopes to pay for the changes.
The three-college Contra Costa Community College District uses the computer system Datatel to input and change grades. Before the alleged crimes, as many as 80 employees throughout the district had the authority to change grades, according to Diane Scott-Summers, Vice President of Student Services and former Interim President. She said that number has now been reduced to around 10 and the district is determining if it should be further lowered. Scott-Summer served during the time the plot unfolded and said the situation was "very difficult" and "very shocking."
"These employees were in trusted positions and other people in the unit trusted them," she said. "When some people are wanting to do wrong they can find a way to do (it)."
Volkert said SF State is not doing any of its own investigating to see if other transfer students are also involved. She said she is "confident" in DVC's internal audit and said the university will not act unless more students are accused of being involved.
"I'm not 100 percent sure that more students will come to light," Volkert said. She said similar consequences would be used if more students from SF State were charged in the case.
In her more than 30 years in admissions Volkert said this type of problem hasn't been an issue at SF State. Without giving an exact count, she said and that "not a very big number" of staff in the Registrar's Office have access to make alterations to grades. Even so, the department is now looking to tighten itself up to identify any possible changes that should be made to SF State's current policy, she said. The university's system, SIMS, has a grade audit program that is run periodically.
"As always," Volkert said, "(this is) a wake up call to look once again at your own system and see if there are any loopholes to tighten.
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