ASU announces external investigation into economics department practices

The move is in response to a resolution by USG calling for an external investigation

Former Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court Ruth McGregor will conduct an independent investigation into alleged unethical practices within ASU's economics department, according to a letter sent to Undergraduate Student Government Tempe Senate Tuesday morning.

The letter, which was addressed to USGT's Student Body President Nikki Tran, outlines the University's plans and includes a copy of a letter that was sent to McGregor retaining her services.

The move comes in response to a resolution by student government leaders passed last week that calls on the Office of the University Provost to hire an external investigator to assess claims of unethical conduct. 

“While I feel strongly that each allegation is false, I agree with your view that there is a need for a third party to review the facts in question in a deliberative and thoughtful manner,” ASU Executive Vice President and University Provost Mark Searle said in the letter.

Searle also said that he expected McGregor to review the grade distributions between traditional and adaptive learning courses, which students also called for in their resolution.

In its letter to McGregor, the University asked for an independent investigation to be completed by Friday, May 17, assuring full cooperation.

"You will receive full cooperation from all University employees who you contact, including answering any questions and providing any documents you request," Searle said in the letter. "If you have any difficulties obtaining information please contact the Office of General Counsel for their assistance." 

A copy of the USG resolution was also sent to McGregor. 

Read more: USGT calls on ASU to investigate claims about economics department

McGregor is no stranger to leading special investigations, having led a probe into an Arizona state hospital at the behest of Gov. Doug Ducey in 2015.

The practices in question at ASU came to light two weeks ago, when clinical assistant professor Brian Goegan blasted an email to students and created a website that accused the University of requiring economics professors to fail students, forcing students to pay for software to turn in their homework and profiting from the software designed at the expense of students. 

Those allegations were listed in the letter to McGregor, asking her to examine each accusation.

Goegan's email quickly went viral, with many students coming to the defense of Goegan, but the University immediately and unequivocally denied all of the allegations. 

Read More: ASU denies viral claims that it purposely failed economics students

The University pointed out that only some classes used the software in question, and that there were no profits being shared between Cengage, the company providing homework and adaptive learning software, and ASU.

ASU backtracked on some of its original statements and clarified the relationship amid increased questions, and after the contract between Cengage and ASU was leaked to the media and student groups. 

The University also clarified its relationship in terms of funds shared between the company and ASU, including a clause that allowed ASU to profit off of any royalties from use of their intellectual property.

A University official with knowledge of the contract and the investigation, pointed out how standard the agreement was, and reiterated that the University had no interest in, and has never made a profit from its deal with Cengage. 

Read More: Leaked contract contradicts ASU's previous claims about Cengage

ASU kept a small amount of the course fees, which the University official said would go to implementing and supporting the adaptive classes, much like any other course fees at ASU. 

While Goegan's claims sparked the controversy, and will be the main thrust of the investigation, McGregor will not be limited to those accusations, according to the University official. 

This is a breaking story and will be updated as more information becomes available


Reach the reporters at isaac.windes@asu.edu and bstoshne@asu.edu  or follow @isaacdwindes and @itsbrennaaaa on Twitter.

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