Do Jocks Get Breaks? UMKC Prof Says College Made Athlete's F Magically Go Away

May 17, 2012 at 8:21 am

In the fall semester of 2010, Henry Lyons, an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, gave four failing grades in his Career and Life Development class. Unfortunately, one of those happened to go to a student-athlete. The athlete appealed the grade. Mysteriously, the F was replaced with a passing grade.

Now, after a few semesters of bureaucracy and the university poking into his teaching and grading methods, not to mention a recent discovery that his class does not appear on UMKC's course schedule for this coming fall, Lyons is mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore. He's demanded an investigation of the matter by the NCAA.

The story, as Lyons told it to the Kansas City Star, went like this:

Lyons is a graduate of UMKC, has given the university money and has made it a beneficiary in his will. Until recently, he had no feelings for UMKC besides deep and abiding love. But. A few weeks after the end of the semester, Lyons received word from his boss, Reggie Bassa, director of UMKC's Program for Adult Continuing Education, that the athlete's failing grade was being appealed. Bassa requested that Lyons hand over papers by other students to demonstrate why the student-athlete's final paper deserved its final grade of F.

Soon after, Bassa informed Lyons that the athlete was going to re-write the paper and Lyons was going to re-grade it, and also give the student extra points for class participation, to boost the final grade a little bit. Lyons was incensed.

"How would they know this person participated?" he asked Star reporter Blair Kerkhoff. (It was a rhetorical question.) "I told him that's not how it worked in my class."

Lyons wanted to appeal the appeal, but was told that wouldn't be possible until the re-written paper had been re-graded. The administration claimed that the original graded paper didn't contain enough "instructional feedback" and that the entire course syllabus, which he had been using for the past two years, stunk.

Lyons has decided that the reason for all this extra hassle is because the student in question plays on one of the university's major sports teams, though neither he nor UMKC administrators would reveal the student's name. After all, he pointed out, nobody bothered to question the grades of the three other students who received F's in his class but who did not play a sport. However, an unnamed source told Kerkhoff that failing Lyons's class would not affect the student-athlete's eligibility.

The university, naturally, claims that there is nothing untoward going on. "Our academic procedures allow any student to challenge a grade through a series of appeals," Melvin C. Tyler, the vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management, told the Star. "We are confident that all recommendations made by the [appeals] committee are academically justified."

The university chancellor, Leo E. Morton, used stronger language in an official statement:

Mr. Lyons' charges are completely baseless and absolutely false. We are delighted by the prospect of a thorough investigation of these charges by the NCAA. We hope they will decide to investigate.

The NCAA declined to comment on whether it had received any information from UMKC, and the the university PR machinery declined to comment on Lyons's teaching schedule for next semester.

Lyons, meanwhile, continues his lonely protest. "It's the arrogance of the system," he said. "This is not a personal agenda. It's about what's right."