Academic Council hears from administrators on settling financial aid lawsuit, investigation into data fraud allegations

Academic Council heard from Duke administration about the University’s decision to settle a financial aid antitrust lawsuit and to not confirm or fact-check the results of an investigation into allegations of data fraud against Professor of Business Administration Dan Ariely at its Thursday meeting.

The Council also listened to a conversation regarding Duke Athletics between Andrew Janiak, chair of the Athletic Council, and Linda Franzoni, Duke’s faculty athletic representative for the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Trina Jones, chair of the Council and Jerome M. Culp distinguished professor of law, opened the meeting with remarks on Hans Van Miegroet, a professor of art and art history who died in a car crash on Feb. 9. She noted that Van Miegroet had been “a beloved member in his department,” where he mentored many graduate students and taught a popular undergraduate course called “History of Art Markets.”

“We are forever indebted to him. Our thoughts are with his family, his friends, his students and his colleagues,” Jones said.

Following a closed session on proposed additional honorary degrees for 2024 commencement, members of Duke administration addressed two anonymous questions that were submitted beforehand.

Financial aid antitrust lawsuit

The first question asked about how Duke thought through the recent decision to settle a lawsuit alleging it practiced illegally need-aware admissions along with 16 other elite institutions. Duke had agreed to pay $24 million to settle the class action lawsuit and had denied any allegations of wrongdoing.

“Specifically, the news coverage leaves many questions unanswered and can be seen damaging to Duke’s reputation,” the question read. “Where are the funds coming from to pay the settlement and will it have any budgetary consequences for the institution or individual units?”

Executive Vice President Daniel Ennis began by noting that private universities have been “increasingly targeted by class action litigation” as part of a “broad trend that we’ve seen across a number of areas.”

Ennis explained to council members that Duke decided to settle after going through an “economic cost benefit analysis” between the cost to proceed with the case and to settle it. He argued that defending a “case of this complexity” would have necessitated an “incredible number of hours” to prepare the defense, incurring large legal costs and wasted leadership time through depositions.

“In this case, we did that cost benefit [analysis] and made the decision to settle, and we believe that was the smarter path,” Ennis said. “Many of our peers have done the same, others have not.”

Duke had joined Brown, Columbia, Emory and Yale in paying a total of $104.5 million to settle their parts of the lawsuit. The University of Chicago, Vanderbilt and Rice had also settled their parts of the case separately.

Ennis also noted that settling the case was “creating significant challenges as it relates to insurance” as insurance companies would be funding most of the settlement, and future threats of lawsuits could make it hard for the University to find ways to protect itself.

Steffen Bass, Arts and Sciences distinguished professor of physics, brought up the argument that settling could invite future lawsuits.

“There is a racket out there that shakes down industries or institutions because it seems they can’t lose,” he said. “Either they get a piece of the settlement money or they get a day in court with apparently good odds of succeeding — it’s kind of frustrating right?”

Bass compared the situation to blackmail situations, where “usually the advice is not to give in because you’re just opening yourself up to more and more shakedowns.”

Ennis acknowledged that firms are “hanging around the margins of those questions and seizing opportunities,” but reaffirmed that the decision was made after considering the consequences.

President Vincent Price stressed the “need for all of us to be thoughtful about antitrust in the climate we’re in,” noting that administrators at Duke go through “mandatory trainings” on information sharing.

“We have to stop ourselves from sharing information in an environment oftentimes that would view behavior that you would see as meritorious and well meaning as potentially violating antitrust laws,” Price said. “Over the course of my professional lifetime, things that 20 or 30 years ago would have been viewed as just normal business operations at a university are now highly suspect and likely to produce lawsuits just like this.”

Price also urged council members who were suggested to attend antitrust training by email to go to the training.

“I know we don’t love trainings … but this is one, please, you ought to attend,” he said.

Dan Ariely academic fraud investigation

The second question was regarding allegations of data fraud against Ariely. In August 2021, a Data Colada blog claimed that a 2012 field study by Ariely and other authors on dishonesty contained fabricated data, leading to the study being retracted. 

In January, Ariely told The Chronicle of Higher Education that Duke had completed an investigation into the allegations against him, concluding that Ariely had not falsified data or knowingly falsified data, though he should have more thoroughly vetted and diligently stored the data. A Duke spokesperson reportedly told the CHE that “we are not in a position to confirm or fact-check anything on this,” meaning there was no source of information about the investigation’s conclusion other than what Ariely was claiming himself. 

“Could you please explain why Duke is “not in a position” to reassure the Duke community — and indeed the world — that Duke takes academic fraud seriously?” the question read. “Or, better yet, could you please reconsider your determination that Duke is not able to provide any information on this matter?

Jennifer Lodge, vice president for research and innovation, began by assuring that the University takes “any allegations of research misconduct seriously.”

“When we receive an allegation of research misconduct, we keep it confidential,” she said. “... If the findings of an investigation warrant any personnel actions, those remain confidential unless we are required by regulation to report, for example, to a funding agency.”

Lodge explained that the confidentiality “protects the privacy of faculty and others who might be involved,” and also “protects the integrity of the process that Duke has adopted to respond to allegations of misconduct.”

Lodge also pointed to Chapter Three of the Faculty Handbook, which states that “confidentiality” means that “all those participating or involved in Research Misconduct Proceedings shall not disclose any information regarding the allegations, the proceedings or the identity of the individuals involved in the proceeding except as necessary to the proper discharge of their employment responsibilities or as required by law.”

Responding to a question about what happens when professors under investigation go to another university, and whether that information would still remain confidential, Lodge said that if the University has authorization from the employee under investigation, they would tell the hiring institution what happened.

Professor of Law Veronica Martinez argued that needing authorization from the employee is problematic.

“I think confidentiality is really important for a variety of reasons, but this is a big complex organization where you could have multiple investigations going on at the same time by different units, and if that confidentiality impedes the ability for those different units to realize you have a recidivist, that seems problematic,” she said.

Martinez also pointed out that strict confidentiality might dissuade people from filing complaints in the first place if they can’t figure out what happened to that complaint. Lodge, however, responded that investigations and their conclusions can be anonymized and posted to show that complaints are actually followed through.

Duke Athletics conversation

Council members then listened to a conversation, moderated by Jones, between Janiak and Franzoni on a variety of topics surrounding collegiate athletics at Duke. 

They began by describing the faculty athletic representative and the Athletic Council. According to Franzoni, who is Duke’s FAR, all NCAA schools must have an FAR, someone who manages the general and academic welfare of the school’s student athletes. Janiak described the Athletic Council as one that consists of trustees, alumni, current students, faculty and staff and performs a variety of administrative functions.

Responding to a question about how Duke balances academic rigor and the need for good sports teams, Franzoni emphasized that “faculty don’t lower standards for student athletes” in the classroom. 

Regarding admissions, Franzoni pointed to recent changes limiting the information available for all applicants, not just student athletes. According to Franzoni, this includes recent changes to standardized testing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and also changes to the admission process.

“There’s no longer a point score for an essay,” she said. “There’s no longer a point score for standardized testing.”

Jones then asked about how collegiate athletics was impacting Duke’s academic reputation, and whether the University was moving away from a reputation comparable to the Ivy League towards one closer to the University of Alabama.

Janiak rejected the notion that Duke is academically similar to either comparison, saying that he thinks Duke is “younger and more creative.” As for how a strong athletic program may shape this reputation, Janiak said that it’s “hard to know” given the rapidly changing national landscape surrounding college athletics.

The discussion then touched on the different supporting resources college athletes have at Duke, including an academic coordinator and a faculty advisor. They also touched on why Duke student athletes are generally more represented in the social sciences, with Franzoni saying that survey results suggest that major choice was not affected by practices and sport scheduling but did affect class selection.

Jones then asked the two speakers about how the ACC’s recent expansion to schools in the West Coast, namely Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, might imply for student athletes in the conference. Janiak said that only half of Duke's athletic teams would be affected, and that the biggest changes would be for the student athletes in California that will have to travel east. 

“The other thing that we may not realize is that their calendar is different from ours. We start in August — they don’t start until much later. They’re on a quarter system so they have breaks that are different than ours,” Franzoni said, adding that the ACC was working to optimize the scheduling to minimize the impact on student athletes.

The discussion then moved into a discussion about the new name, image and likeness rules affecting college athletics. 

“What is happening right now is that student athletes are being swayed by economic [opportunities], as opposed to their academic opportunities that they have at universities,” Franzoni said. She also added that there weren’t any “uniform rules right now,” comparing it to the “wild wild West.”

Ennis and Price then talked briefly about financing Duke’s athletics programs. Ennis said that roughly $150 million was spent on the University’s athletic programs, with 32% of that coming from NCAA/ACC distributions, 20% from gifts, 10% from tickets and roughly 23% from institutional support. He noted that revenue from men’s basketball and football creates a surplus that helps fund the entire athletic department, but is still insufficient, thus requiring institutional support.

“The bulk of the university support of athletics is in the form of scholarships for the student athletes,” Price said. “There are other institutions that don’t even consider subsidies and scholarships to studies as part of their support to athletics. Here, it’s actually the lion’s share of what the University contributes.”

Nina King, vice president and director of athletics, concluded the meeting by answering a question about NIL collectives and how they are governed. NIL collectives are independent from schools and help organize NIL opportunities for student athletes.

“Here at Duke, we're very fortunate. We actually have two collectives that work with us — we have great relationships with them so that we can educate them on what is allowed, what isn’t allowed … it’s been a pretty transparent relationship,” she said. King later added that there are very few rules that govern these electives.

“A lot of our student athletes are not here for the NIL money. It’s additive for them,” King said. “They want to be here for the Duke education and they get the cherry on top, the opportunity to make some money.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story said half of all ACC schools would be affected by the conference's expansion. It has been updated to reflect that half of Duke's athletic teams will be affected by the expansion. The Chronicle regrets the error. 

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Jazper Lu | Managing Editor

Jazper Lu is a Trinity junior and managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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