Tonight, a Troubleshooters follow-up on Coastal Bend College (CBC).
An auditor with a state agency says, in 30 years of investigations, he’s never seen a circumstance as troubling as what he’s uncovered in his investigation of unauthorized grade changes in CBC’s LVN Nursing program, and other compliance issues.
Bee County Judge Stephanie Moreno, speaking for the college, said, she was ‘incredibly disappointed with the way this investigation has been handled’, and, that the tone of the investigation is ‘ridicule and judgment.’
For the first time since our reports began, college president Dr. Beatriz Espinoza speaks to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) about their investigation.
“It was especially difficult for me as college president, because I was excluded from the investigation.”
Excluded, or did Espinoza refuse to comment on it?
Mark Poehl, Director of Internal Audit and Compliance for the THECB, told the board, Espinoza was given chances to see the results of the investigation before it was made public and say something about it.
“I reached out to the president and the chair of the CBC Board,” Poehl said, “and offered to attend the CBC Board meeting and provide everything on our investigation results. The President never responded to the offer. And the Board Chair, thru the college attorney, declined the offer to be briefed.”
Poehl added that investigation was restricted by a culture of fear of retaliation where employees did not want to be seen cooperating with the auditors.
But Bee County Judge Stephanie Moreno, who attended the Coordinating Board meeting with Espinoza, shot back at Poehl.
“Additionally concerning is that the college administration was never provided a list of those interviewed during the 6 months the investigation occurred so that the college could provide the auditors information regarding the clear bias and vendetta of several of these individuals.”
Was Dr. Maltida Saenz, the college’s former Interim Vice President of Instruction and Economic Development biased for filing 27 grievances about Espinoza and the college?
And did she have a vendetta against the college by speaking out to the Troubleshooters about what she perceived was happening at CBC?
“It is my duty. Chief academic officer. I could not keep quiet. Around April, I wanted to scream. Isn’t anybody watching? Does anybody care ?”
The school fired Saenz just days before her contract expired in August of 2018 for violating student privacy protected by FERPA, a federal privacy law intended to protect students’ education records.
Our reports centered around allegations of unauthorized grade changes in the college’s LVN Nursing program.
Poehl told the Board there is a ‘significant weakness’ in the CBC’s process to administer grade changes, adding that the college does not have a ‘standard procedure’ for making grade changes.
The investigation found 275 changes were made for 124 students for exams given in the fall 2017 semester, and about half of them did not have a faculty signature or faculty authorization.
THECB Commissioner Raymund Paredes, speaking to Espinoza, said it was ‘unthinkable’ to him that a student’s grade could be changed without faculty consent.
“Did the faculty member refuse to endorse the grade change? Is that what happened ?” Espinoza replied, “the faculty member refused to participate in the item analysis. She later stated in public, thru the news media, that she needed to get rid of a student, and so this is the way to do it.”
Teachers produce an item analysis as a difficulty index for a test item whereby they calculate the proportion of students in the class who got an item correct.
Attorney Sid Arismendez represents one of the instructors the CBC fired.
“There’s facts that grade changes were made. There are facts that instructors were forced, threatened, coerced to sign these documents. These changes. And when they refused to, they were written up. I represent one of them. and you will be seeing a lawsuit coming forth shortly.”
After about 30 minutes of back-and-forth, it was Commissioner Paredes who seemed to endorse Mark Poehl, and support the results of the investigation.
“I take it very seriously when he said to me, as he said to the Board a few moments ago, that in 30 years of practicing, he’s not seen a circumstance as troubling as this one. And I have a high level of confidence in his comments and his findings.”
Poehl also told the Board that the investigation into Coastal Bend College is ongoing and that the state auditor’s office, the federal Department of Education Inspector General, and the Texas Rangers have been notified.