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Grade changing scandal results in charges

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Published: Friday, March 29, 2013

Updated: Friday, March 29, 2013 01:03

Two former Miami University students were charged with first-degree misdemeanors Monday for unauthorized use of a computer system, according to Miami University Police Lieutenant Ben Spilman.

The issue was brought to Miami University Police Department’s (MUPD) attention in October 2012, when a faculty member alerted an MUPD officer when she noticed a discrepancy in what grades she had entered in Niihka with what was being displayed, according to Spilman.

After investigation, MUPD determined the grades had been changed using a key logger, a device that is plugged into the USB port of a keyboard and records the keystrokes, allowing the students to record usernames and passwords, Miami communications director Claire Wagner said.

According to the MUPD police report, 21-year-old Beckley Parker admitted he changed his grades in 17 classes and changed other students’ grades to cover his tracks. Over the course of four academic semesters, it was reported Parker changed over 70 grades. The report did not specify how many of those grades were his own.

The second student was identified as 21-year-old David Callahan, who also admitted to changing one of his grades in the fall of 2012, along with two of his classmates to make it difficult for police to determine which student changed the grades, according to the police report.

Both Callahan and Parker were found with copies of tests and exams on multiple electronic devices, which had been downloaded from Niihka without authorization of the professor, along with log.txt files containing professors’ usernames and passwords, according to the police report.

Callahan and Parker both belonged to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and according to the police report, Callahan acknowledged the fraternity members used a “test bank” to receive better grades. It was also reported that 28 of the changed grades belonged to members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

The university is still reviewing evidence regarding the test bank, and Wagner said she does not know when or what will happen in the future. The university is still in the process of investigating each changed grade.

“A lot of them didn’t know it was done,” Wagner said. “They’re not quite done going through the list of the students [with changed grades] and notifying and asking those students if they knew what was going on…there may be other repercussions.”

According to Spilman, as of now no charges have been pressed about the test bank in the fraternity.

“There are no criminal charges resulting from this case at this time,” he said. “I suppose if the investigation were to reveal some reason for criminal charges that that would be a possibility.”

This is the first time this has happened at Miami, Wagner said, and she said she thinks this should be an example of what happens when there is a violation of academic integrity.

“…Any student who pays attention to the code of conduct…they will see there are severe consequences,” Wagner said.

President David Hodge said he does not believe Callahan and Parker’s actions give Miami a bad image, and there is a message the community can take away from this.

“I’m not accepting the fact it gives Miami a bad name,” he said. “Miami had two students who behaved very badly and we’re going to hold those accountable and move on…The message we want to give [is] integrity really matters. It’s important to every institution and every individual.”

According to Wagner, the university is advising faculty on how to protect against another incident.

“It certainly raises awareness,” Wagner said. “We’ve done a lot of communication with faculty and we’ll do more. There are some technological changes, some visual changes…we’re taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The IT Department is implementing several changes to decrease the probability of another breach of computer security, according to Wagner, such as a two-step email notification process when professors change grades, weekly email reports to professors detailing grade changes from the previous week and putting tamper proof tape over USB ports.

Spilman said Callahan and Parker face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine on each charge. According to the police report, Callahan was charged with three misdemeanors and Parker charged with six. It has not yet been determined how long it will take until the former students are prosecuted.

“[Both students] accepted responsibility for their actions and accepted dismissal from the university,” Wagner said. “They’re last day of enrollment was March 8.”

The case is now in the criminal system, according to Spilman, and their first appearance in court will be April 4. Spilman said it is possible it could be continued to another date.

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