TEMPE, AZ (3TV / CBS 5) - A firestorm on social media Thursday after Arizona State University economics professor Brian Goegan sent an email to students claiming the reason he was let go was for raising concerns about “unethical policies.”
“No words. It’s just really disappointing,” said Alexandra Vaughn, Goegan’s former student.
“It’s hard not to believe that because he was very involved with the whole economics department,” said another former student, Gerardo Barron.
First, Goegan claims the department requires two economics courses to use Mindtap, which is a Cengage product, to turn in their homework online. But they have to pay for it.
Goegan claims that the provost received a grant from Cengage to participate in a project, and that the students’ homework money is helping fund the provost’s project.
Students said the burden is on them.
“You did have to get a separate access code, which costs $100,” Vaughn said.
“Making students pay to turn in their homework is something that is not right,” Goegan said.
ASU has refuted Goegan’s claims, saying there is no monetary grant, that Mindtap is optional for economics classes right now and students can choose to take the traditional class.
But students and Goegan said Mindtap is required, even if you are in those traditional courses.
“You are required to download that stuff if you want to pass the homework and pass the class,” Vaughn said.
Goegan's second claim is that professors teaching three economics courses were required to prevent at least 30 percent of students from passing. He said the provost wanted to make it look like students were having a hard time passing so this new program could fix it.
“211 was, like, impossible. It was so hard. I mean, so many kids I know failed,” said Vaughn of one of the courses in question.
“We were told that we needed to get around 10 percent D’s, 10 percent E’s and 10 percent withdrawals,” Goegan said. Letter D, E and withdrawals are all considered non-passing grades.
ASU called these claims unequivocally false. They said they would never fail a percentage of students.
The university also said the reason Goegan was let go was due to multiple shortcomings but would not elaborate.
Goegan said that even though he was still finishing class lectures Thursday night, he's now been locked out of his ASU account.
On Friday, Goegan posted an extensive rebuttal to the provost's response. You can read it here:
University Provost Mark Searle responded to student's concerns in an email which contained several pieces of misinformation that I wish to address. His response was as follows:
"I am writing to address misinformation spreading online and through the news media about the use of the Cengage MindTap adaptive learning platform in some of our economics courses.
The misinformation claims that students are required to pay for use of the platform to turn in homework, that Cengage gave ASU a grant for using the program, that a requirement exists to prevent at least 30 percent of students from passing the class, and that a professor was dismissed after expressing disapproval of the platform.
We have looked into these claims and have found no factual evidence to support them.
As with all of ASU’s adaptive learning courses up to this point and many other classes there has been a course fee associated with using the adaptive platform. There is a fee to use MindTap but it also pays for the class (digital) textbook. The economics courses using MindTap are optional at this time; students may choose to take the same courses taught by other professors using traditional university grading/textbook platforms. Cengage has not given ASU any grants. The accusation that the university would establish quotas in any course requiring to fail a certain percentage of students is unequivocally false. That is not who we are. We generally do not comment on the details of disciplinary matters related to faculty, and there are many reasons that a faculty member’s contract might not be renewed, including when a faculty member resists course-correction of multiple shortcomings despite supervisory intervention.
We regret if the spread of this misinformation online has caused confusion on these matters. If you have any questions or feedback, do not hesitate to contact me.
Executive Vice President and University Provost"
I would like to present the factual evidence supporting my claims.
"The economics courses using MindTap are optional at this time"
The requirement to use MindTap started in the Spring of 2017. In the "Start of the Year" meeting on Tuesday, August 16th, 2016, Jose Mendez, assistant chair of the department of economics, presented the following slide and discussed the deal the Provost's office had made with Cengage.I met with Gustavo Ventura, chair of the economics department, in early 2018 to voice my concerns about these policies, where he insisted that MindTap be used in all Principles courses. He emailed a follow up to me on March 5th, 2018:
Per our last conversation, please let me know what you thought about complying with the use of book (Mankiw) and software requirements (MindTab) for ECN 212 in this summer. Recall that MindTab homewoks should be assigned and be a material part of the students' grades. I would need to know by the start of next week.
I sent Gustavo my syllabus which limited the MindTap requirement so that students would not have a large portion of their grade based on acquiring that access code. In an email sent to me by Gustavo on Friday, March 23, 2018, he insisted that I make two changes to the syllabus for two sections of ECN 212 being taught over the summer, saying:
I went over your syllabus for ECN 212 for this summer.
Please make the following changes.
1. In regard to the textbook, it should say:
Required Textbook: Principles of Microeconomics, 8th Edition, by N. Gregory Mankiw along with MindTap® Economics.
2. In regard to total grading weight on the concept quizzes associated to Mindtab, it should be raised to about 20% of the total number of points. This would put your class more in line with other Principles' courses.
Please send me a copy of the new syllabus when you have it ready for my approval.
Gustavo Ventura, Chair
Economics Department, Arizona State University"
Note that he requires me to increase the number of points I require through MindTap and says that this would be consistent with other Principles courses, directly contradicting the Provost's claim. Student's were and are required to pay in order to turn in their homework.
"Cengage has not given ASU any grants."
This contradicts what we were told at the time about the deal with Cengage. On June 30th, 2017 I expressed my concern to Jose Mendez, assistant chair of the economics department, in an email where I said the following:
"I am also concerned that the requirement of the Provost's office to use MindTap constitutes an illegal bribe, and I am certain that it is deeply immoral. I cannot force students to pay a hundred dollars so that the Provost can fund a project that has had such abysmal results so far. And if I have to, I will need to tell them why they are being forced to pay that money and who they can direct their complaints to so that my conscience is clear. I cannot be the only one who feels this way. This is a level of corruption that really shouldn't be tolerated. It isn't as if we evaluated all possible options and collectively decided that this was the best on offer. Our required use of Mankiw and MindTap was purchased by Cengage, and it is easy to see why they need to do that in order to sell books and software. The prices they charge are far in excess of the value of what they provide."
Jose Mendez insisted we meet in person, where he confirmed he understood that my objection was about the way the project was being funded and did not deny the claim. At no point in the past two years has anyone contradicted my statement until the Provost did yesterday. Gustavo Ventura never claimed Cengage had not provided money for the project when I said so, Dean Goul never informed me otherwise, and Dean Hillman never denied it either in the meeting I had with her. If this isn't the case, the University should clarify with what money people are being paid in order to develop the adaptive learning platform and where all of that money came from.
"The accusation that the university would establish quotas in any course requiring to fail a certain percentage of students is unequivocally false."
In his call for a "Start of the Year" meeting on July 13th, 2018, Jose Mendez noted the agenda in the email:
"Among the topics I plan to cover are our policies regarding grade distributions, class cancellations, and WPC’s policy prohibiting honors enrichment contracts in a regular course when an honors section of the course is available and not full."
At this meeting Jose Mendez laid out the policy that all ECN 211, 212, and 221 courses need to follow the given distribution. For ECN 221, the historical average was the benchmark, but for ECN 211 and 212 he set the benchmark which required students' grades to consist of 10% Ds, 10% Es, and 10% Ws (withdrawals). He said explicitly in this meeting that this policy was a directive of Vice Provost Art Blakemore and was being enforced because they needed to set a baseline for a metric they would be using to judge Art Blakemore's "Principles Project" - which is the "adaptive learning courses" mentioned in Mark Searle's email to students.
On September 13, 2018, Jose Mendez finally returned my request by email for the grade distribution I needed to meet for ECN 221. He noted the following:
"As requested, here is the Poly grade distribution for ECN 221. It is nearly identical to the Tempe benchmark.
In a follow up on September 17th, 2018, Jose Mendez told me explicitly I needed to match the required distribution for the class:
"As the instructors at Poly have done, you need to stick to the grade distribution benchmark provided by the department. You control that."
"We generally do not comment on the details of disciplinary matters related to faculty, and there are many reasons that a faculty member’s contract might not be renewed, including when a faculty member resists course-correction of multiple shortcomings despite supervisory intervention."
At last the Provost says something that is true. I did resist "course-correction" on these two matters. As you can see, Gustavo Ventura - my supervisor - did intervene regarding my lack of requirements regarding MindTap in my regular Principles courses. And Jose Mendez did repeatedly insist I get my grade distributions fully in line with the baseline he set out on behalf of Vice Provost Art Blakemore. I am pleased to see the Provost acknowledge that it was my ethical concerns about these policies that led to my contract not being renewed. Or perhaps it is that the Provost feels faculty should not resist course-correction when that course-correction is a demand to do something unethical.