Scandal taints JEPET
October 1, 2008 1:43 PM
University police are investigating a possible crime implicating a professor and a teacher's assistant, involving as many as 50 SF State students.
In spring 2008, SF State student Britney Stewart took a practice JEPET test in her Africana Studies Second Year Written Composition class. After getting her graded test back, she and her classmates were offered the opportunity to make that practice JEPET count as their real test.
Stewart paid her $40 test fee to the teacher's assistant, Rickey Rickerson-Riesen, and considered her JEPET requirement complete.
But last summer, Stewart got some bad news.
"I received a call from the San Francisco State Police saying that I was basically scammed out of the JEPET, it didn't really count at all and that they're doing an investigation to find out what was going on," Stewart said.
University spokeswoman Ellen Griffin said an "anonymous whistle-blower" reported irregularities in the testing procedures.
The Africana studies class was taught by Professor Ernest Brown with Rickerson-Riesen acting as TA. Rickerson-Riesen was also employed as an analyst for the Testing Center which administers the JEPET and other exams.
The Junior English Proficiency Essay Test must be taken by all SF State students. Students who fail the JEPET must get a passing grade in English 414 to graduate.
Students said they took the practice JEPET as a midterm exam. When Brown left on a trip to Florida before the end of the fall semester, Rickerson-Riesen offered students who passed the midterm a chance to use that test result as their official JEPET score. Rickerson-Riesen collected the $40 test fees but students were later informed by the UPD that the fees were not turned over to the university.
The University Police Department would not provide details on a pending investigation, but Sgt.. Renee Wilson confirmed that the UPD is working with the special prosecutions department of the San Francisco District Attorney's Office and as of Oct. 1, no arrests had been made.
Briauna Keller, a sophomore majoring in child and adolescent development at SF State, was at work last summer when she got a call from the UPD asking for her cooperation in the investigation.
"The officer said that I might have been a victim of a crime at SF State and I was like...whoa!" Keller said.
Keller had taken the JEPET administered by Rickerson-Riesen in fall 2007 and had paid her $40 fee to him.
"When I called the officer back he asked me a bunch of questions about the class and then he told me that the money never got to the school and that basically Rickey ran off with the money," Keller explained.
Keller received an e-mail in September from the Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Gail Evans, confirming that her JEPET score from Rickerson-Riesen's test would be honored and she has not had to repay the $40 fee. The university communications office confirmed that JEPET scores for the other students involved will also be honored.
Brown is no longer listed on this semester's schedule of classes, and rumors are circulating that he has been suspended during the investigation. University Communications Director Ellen Griffin would not confirm the employment status of Brown or Rickerson-Riesen specifically.
"We found evidence that procedures weren't followed, and have taken appropriate disciplinary and legal action with the two employees involved," Griffin wrote in an e-mail.
Rumors of Brown's suspension have upset some students.
"I thought it was crap that Dr.. Brown got suspended. He had nothing to do with it. Rickey was working alone and I don't understand why Dr. Brown got dragged into this," Keller said.
Keller stressed that Brown was not in the classroom when Rickey proposed the idea or set up the date to meet and pay him.
"We need teachers like Dr. Brown. He is one of those professors who motivates you to learn. He encourages you to step out of the box and try something different," Keller said.
Jeffery Aigbekaen, a political science major and Keller's classmate, also took the JEPET from Rickerson-Riesen and said he thinks the university treated Brown unfairly.
"Rickey stealing from the JEPET program was wrong and I don't condone it. But I don't see why Dr.. Brown has to pay for it," Aigbekaen said.
Aigbekaen is not ready to pass judgment on Rickerson-Riesen's motivations either.
"I see it as Rickey giving us an equal opportunity. There was no bias. Rickey graded all of our tests fairly and he offered every student that passed the opportunity to make the test count as the real JEPET," Aigbekaen said.
"I really believe that he was just trying to help us pass the JEPET."
Aigbekaen said he walked away from Dr. Brown's class motivated and gained some exceptional writing skills. He said Brown should be reinstated immediately.
"Anybody can teach," Aigbekaen said. "Dr. Brown - he was a professor."
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