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ATHLETE'S PLAGIARISM ROILS CAMPUS

A basketball player at St. Bonaventure University who admitted plagiarism in a sociology class assignment has received an "F" for the course, under the professor's written policy on cheating.

Now, with the support of the athletic department, the player is trying to drop the course to avoid the failing grade, which could hurt his athletic eligibility.

School officials have made no final decision on the player's request, and exactly how an "F" affects the player's eligibility for next season remains unclear.

St. Bonaventure administrators insist the student-athlete is not receiving special treatment and simply is following the school's standard procedures.

"This student is being treated as a student. . . . It's what our policy provides the student by way of an appeal process," Frank Saal, Bona's provost and vice president for academic affairs, told The Buffalo News.

For some faculty, though, the case revives painful memories of the basketball scandal that brought the college national notoriety in 2003.

"All I can say is, if this grade is changed, I'm going to give up on this place," said a longtime Bona professor who, like several colleagues, asked not to be named for fear of angering top school administrators. "If this is changed, it's going to discourage an awful lot of faculty."

In interviews, school officials and four faculty members who spoke on condition they not be named confirmed the basic facts:

Colleagues confirmed that Kathy Zawicki, an untenured assistant professor of sociology, was teaching the course.

She declined comment, but her policy, spelled out in the course syllabus, calls for failing any student who admits cheating. When confronted, this student confessed to plagiarism and accepted his "F."

Soon after, a "third party" advised the student that the window to drop a course still was open and urged him to take that step, according to the school.

Bona officials would not identify this adviser. But several faculty said the student is receiving strong support from the athletics department, particularly David Potter, an assistant athletics director. Athletics Director Ron Zwierlein, Potter's supervisor, referred questions about the matter to the provost.

Fundamentally, the school is trying to resolve two conflicting policies, Saal said.

The school's academic honesty policy allows faculty members to set rules and potential punishments for any cheating.

Another school policy, however, allows students to withdraw from a course for any reason as long as the drop-add period remained open, as it was in this case, he said.

An acting academic honesty board, formed to handle this case, ruled in general that the withdrawal policy takes precedence. Saal, however, said the acting board went too far in its ruling.

Now, a formal board will hear this case and several similar cases involving non-athletes.

The school argues that Saal's rejection of the acting board's decision, which favored the student, proves the athlete is not receiving preferential treatment.

But some faculty members question the message sent by allowing students to withdraw from course to avoid punishment for cheating or plagiarizing.

The Faculty Senate has adopted a policy, which will take effect next fall, barring cheaters from dropping a course to avoid punishment.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com