September 6, 2008

Panel to Probe Suspect Degree Given By CMU

By Bill Zlatos

Carnegie Mellon University has appointed a four-person committee to recommend whether a student should get to keep a controversial degree that led to the resignation of a dean.

The committee, announced Thursday, was formed after a faculty member had told university officials that a student had been given more credits for independent study and transfer classes than the university normally allows.

Mark Wessel, who had approved the excessive credits, later resigned as dean of the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management.

"Part of the committee's charge will be to determine if the student's degree should be rescinded," said university spokesman Ken Walters. The student, who has not been identified for privacy reasons, received a master's degree from the Heinz School in 2004.

The committee consists of Joel Tarr, the Richard S. Caliguiri University Professor of History and Policy and former acting dean of the Heinz School; Al Blumstein, the J. Erik Jonsson University Professor of Urban Systems and Operations Research and a former dean of the Heinz School; Dick Tucker, interim dean of student affairs and the Paul Mellon University Professor of Applied Linguistics; and Rick Stafford, a distinguished service professor and alumnus of the Heinz School.

"These are excellent faculty members," said Denise Novak, chair of Carnegie Mellon's Faculty Senate.

The committee, chaired by Tarr, will examine whether any changes are needed in the degree-granting process at the Heinz School and review degrees granted over the past five years to confirm this was an isolated case.

Blumstein said "it's premature to say what the committee will do in detail" beyond the memo that was sent Wednesday from Heinz School Acting Dean Ramayya Krishnan.

Tucker is the only member of the committee not affiliated with the Heinz School. Tarr said that should not affect its work.

"I think the committee will fulfill its charge," he said.

Citing the prestige of the "blue ribbon committee," Walters said they can be counted on for an independent investigation. Tarr, Blumstein and Tucker have attained CMU's highest rank of "university professor," and Stafford is a distinguished professor.

The panel has no timetable for finishing its work, Walters said.

The committee's report and recommendations will be given to the acting dean, CMU President Jared Cohon, Provost Mark Kamlet and the board of trustees. A summary of the report will be given to students and faculty of the Heinz School.

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