| ||Wednesday, November 3|
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|KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A paper turned in by Tennessee center Spencer Riley but allegedly co-written by an athletics department employee was the incident that originally sparked English department concerns about widespread academic fraud involving football players, ESPN.com has learned.
Riley, now a senior and starting center for the Volunteers, was confronted by English professors as a freshman in 1995 and told them at the time that Lois Prislovsky, who works with learning-disabled athletes, helped him write the paper, sources said.Doug Dickey, Tennessee athletics director, confirmed that Tennessee officials last week investigated an alleged case of plagiarism involving Riley from several years back. Unlike the four redshirt freshmen who were suspended before last Saturday's game against Memphis, the school plans to take no action against Riley, he said. "We didn't make any decision (to suspend) him because that (allegation) was so far back," Dickey said. Tennessee also could have more to lose if Riley is found to have been involved in an NCAA violation. Unlike the four players suspended last week -- Keyon Whiteside, Leonard Scott, Reggie Ridley and Ryan Rowe -- Riley is a team co-captain, and was a starter during the team's national championship run last year. ESPN.com attempted to talk to Riley, but Tennessee's sports information department, which normally handles requests for athlete interviews, declined to make him available for comment. Concerns about plagiarism in the athletics department were raised four years ago when a player with a learning disability, after being confronted about his bogus paper, said it was common practice for athletes to have tutors write their papers as the player gave dictation on the subject, said Linda Bensel-Meyers, director of composition in the English department. Bensel-Meyers, who declined to name the player, said that player "basically couldn't read or write" and failed the class that term after the co-written paper was discovered. The paper was one of several instances of excessive collaboration involving athletes that English instructors strongly suspected, but this was the only confirmed case at the time, she said. Bensel-Meyers said she doesn't believe the co-written paper was an intentional case of plagiarism, but rather a situation in which Prislovsky misinterpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act to mean that she should write student papers in response to an athlete's oral instructions. The English department subsequently trained Prislovsky in proper tutoring techniques, which Bensel-Meyers said she believed took care of the problem. "I think she knows now not to do that -- he talks and she writes it down, composing it," Bensel-Meyers said. "My concern was that a lot of other tutors were watching her and seeing that's how it was done." Prislovsky denied that she did too much of the work on the paper for Riley, and characterized the situation as "conversations" with Bensel-Meyers "on the (accommodation) requirements for students with certain disabilities." She referred further comment on the matter to associate athletics director for student life Carmen Tegano, who oversees all academic services in the athletic department. Tegano has not returned phone calls for comment on any of the tutoring allegations raised in a six-week ESPN.com investigation of the academic program for Tennessee athletes. Robin Wright, who ran the writing center in the athletics department when Riley was a freshman, worked with Riley after the incident with the English department. She said Riley wanted to learn to write well, and with lots of tutoring support and patience, passed the class the next time he took it. "He actually ended up being good (at writing)," Wright said. The methods used to tutor and teach students with learning disabilities have been an issue for everyone in academia, Bensel-Meyers said. Federal laws require that accommodations be made for students who are diagnosed as having a disability -- which could be anything from dyslexia to inattention to memory problems. Depending on the disability, a student can receive more time on tests, or have test questions read to them, or take them alone, or even have someone take notes for them in class, among other arrangements. The issue gets especially tricky when dealing with college athletes, many of whom arrive at the university with marginal academic credentials. To help athletes get through school and stay eligible for competition, Tennessee in 1996 hired Prislovsky -- a graduate assistant in academic services in 1995 when she worked with Riley -- into the newly created job of special needs director. She currently has 11 football players with learning disabilities in her program, plus athletes with physical disabilities and those identified as academically at-risk, she said. Two more football players have been tested for disabilities by the university this year and are awaiting results on whether they will qualify for the program, Prislovsky said. She supervises a group of nine tutors who work with learning-disabled athletes. "Sometimes tutors who are trained in the English department don't understand what learning-disabled students need," said Victoria Gray, a tutor in Prislovsky's group from 1995 until November of last year. Internal correspondence acquired by ESPN.com show that Gray last fall was accused by Wright, an English instructor, of excessive collaboration on papers she believes should have been written more exclusively by athletes. She complained strenuously about Gray's tutoring tactics to Prislovsky, who said she in turn passed on her concerns about Gray to Tegano. "There is no difference in the rules" regarding how much help a tutor can offer a learning-disabled student in the writing of an essay, Prislovsky said. Gray, a former English teacher who has studied special education, denies doing anything improper as a tutor. "If I was only interested in cranking out grades, there are other places I could make more money," she said. "My goal with learning-disabled students was getting them to the point where they were self-sufficient." ESPN.com senior writer Tom Farrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Timeline: Events, allegations and memos related to academic fraud