The Richmond Register

Education

March 8, 2014

Veteran certification officer fired from EKU

Accused of cheating on test

RICHMOND — Accusations of cheating on an online test led to the firing of an 18-year Eastern Kentucky University employee Wednesday.

Retha Sandlin, formerly a veteran certification officer in the Burnam House for EKU’s student veterans, said the decision resulted from a misunderstanding on the part of Jaime Roberts, the house’s interim office manager.

According to Sandlin, who also is a part-time student, she was simultaneously working on a test in one of two history courses she is enrolled in and working on homework for an online Veteran’s Studies class the afternoon of Feb. 7. She said that when she ran into a question she couldn’t answer on her veterans’ studies homework; she asked nearby student veterans Jared Smith and Joseph McQuerry to help her.

“When I asked them, I had minimized the (computer) window with the test in it,” Sandlin said.

Sandlin said Roberts entered the room while the students were assisting her, and accused her of using the veterans to cheat on her history exam. But Sandlin says Roberts would not have been able to see her computer screen from where she was standing.

In a copy of an email provided to the Register by Sandlin, Roberts explained to History Department Chair Christine Taylor the scene from her point of view.

“I came downstairs a short time later to check on some paperwork in her area,” Roberts explained in the email. “And when I opened the door to the office, she (Sandlin) was at her computer taking her test, with one of our work study students standing behind her, and another one crouched on the floor next to her, helping her with the exam.”

Roberts went on to explain that she told the two veterans they needed to leave, and Smith argued with her. Finally, Sandlin again told the two to leave, and they exited the building and drove away “squealing tires and revving their engines as they left,” she said.

Roberts said the exchange took place about 4:20 to 4:30 in the afternoon, which adjunct professor Jessica Madison confirmed coincided to the time Sandlin was recorded taking the test on the university’s Blackboard website.

In a Feb. 17 email, Sandlin told Madison there was no cheating, again saying she was working on homework for her veterans’ studies class. She additionally said Roberts had acted “very hateful toward me and the other student(s).

The Register attempted to contact Roberts on Friday afternoon but was unable to reach her for comment.

According to the email copies, Madison contacted Sandlin Feb. 17, notifying her that she had been accused of cheating and giving her two options. She could accept a sanction since this was her first offense, which would give her an automatic zero on the test without the option of retaking it, or withdrawing from the class. Accepting the sanction also would close the case, Sandlin said she was told. Her other option was to appeal to the university’s Office of Academic Integrity, Sandlin said, telling them her side of the story and opening an investigation into the matter.

Sandlin responded the same day, accepting the sanction, saying she wanted to “get this over with so I can focus on school.”

According to the letter from EKU’s human resources office terminating Sandlin’s employment, cheating on the exam constituted dishonest behavior in the workplace. Workplace dishonesty is classified in the university’s Progressive Disciplinary Action policy as an offense meriting immediate termination.

Sandlin said that when she accepted the sanction, she was unaware of the consequence it carried for her job. She said Madison told her it would create a mark on her personnel file for five years, which the university would need to provide to potential employers. However, the loss of her job was never brought up, Sandlin said.

Smith and Sandlin additionally cited the history class’ syllabus, which states, “You may use any sources you have available to help you; the textbook will work best.”

However, the EKU Academic Integrity Policy defines fabrication as, “Submitting as your own any academic exercise (verbal, written, electronic, or artistic work) prepared totally or in part by another person.”

An additional reason for dismissal listed in the HR letter Sandlin received was violating the university’s code of ethics by using her office computer for something other than work and viewing inappropriate material. Sandlin said HR Operations Director Jennifer Strauel told her an “inappropriate video” not relating to her work was discovered in her email. However, Sandlin said she was not told what the video was or when she received it. She said the EKU policy for email had changed since she was first hired, so the date she received the email was important.

“When I was hired in '97 we were told we could use our email for anything,” she said.

According to EKU policy, Sandlin has until March 26 to submit a grievance form to the vice president of her department if she feels she has been unfairly dismissed. She has not decided if she will, she said.

“I’m done with EKU,” Sandlin said. “After 18 years there was no loyalty (from the university). They didn’t speak to any of my old bosses.”

However, Sandlin said she does not want to have a black mark on her record for something she didn’t do.

The Register formally requested records from Sandlin’s personnel file Friday. State law allows a public institution three business days to respond to the request, but because the university will be closed for spring break March 10-14, records will not be available for more than a week.

Seth Littrell can be reached at slittrell@richmondregister.com or 624-6623.

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