Academy suspends professor Teacher rebuked in test's vanishing

March 08, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

A Naval Academy electrical engineering professor has been suspended for a week for allegedly failing to alert his superiors in December about the disappearance of a final exam.

The suspension for Professor Raymond Wasta, a civilian, begins today, the first day of spring break for midshipmen.

Arthur R. Butler, Mr. Wasta's attorney, says the professor is being suspended for failing to suspect theft when the exam did not come back from the printing center soon enough. As many as 28 midshipmen are being investigated for cheating on a course considered one of the toughest at the school.

"They're saying because he wasn't suspicious when it got lost, that was carelessness," Mr. Butler said.

Mr. Wasta received a letter stating that the disciplinary action was for "inappropriate attention to duties," but the letter was "not very specific," said Mr. Butler.

Attempts to reach Cmdr. Mike John, academy spokesman, were unsuccessful.

Several former professors said they believe Mr. Wasta, 56, is being made a scapegoat.

"I think it's an abomination," said a former electrical engineering professor, Pat Burt. "No one will say what he's done that didn't go according to policy."

Another former professor, Bill Rynone, said he thinks the administration "was looking for someone to shift the focus of attention to. It didn't look good for the administration for midshipmen to have gotten access to the test. I believe they're trying to deflect the real problem."

The events surrounding the cheating episode are still somewhat hazy.

A midshipman apparently obtained a master copy of a final exam in Electrical Engineering 311 some days before it was given in December. Academy officials say the test never showed up at the academy's central copying office, where documents such as exams are duplicated.

When the incident was reported, academy officials blamed the electrical engineering faculty for failing to follow proper procedures in copying the exam.

Academy officials have said the procedure requires that a faculty or staff member take the exam to the Naval Academy copy center and sign to pick up copies.

Mr. Wasta, who declined to comment on the suspension, said he gave the exam to a secretary for forwarding to the copy center.

Said Mr. Butler: "There are, as far as I can find, no specific procedures for the printing of the test. He submitted the test to be printed through a secretary as was the normal procedure.

"That's how they do it. That's what he did. The test was then stolen after he turned it over to the secretary."

Other electrical engineering professors agreed with that assessment.

Ms. Burt, a former course coordinator in the department, said tests would be put into an envelope and one of the regular couriers would pick up the stack of mail, including material to go to the copy center.

"After the faculty member turns it in to secretary, he's out of the loop," she said.

"The copy center has been notorious for not returning material on time, for misplacing material," adds Ms. Burt.

In one instance involving the physics department, she said, "people from the copy center brought an exam over in a box and left it at the bottom of a stairwell because the elevator wasn't functioning."

In Mr. Wasta's case, said his attorney, two separate tests were involved, one six weeks into the course and the final exam.

The first test did not come back from the copy shop. Mr. Wasta didn't alert anyone but simply re-submitted the test for printing. A test six weeks later came back properly.

When Mr. Wasta's final exam failed to return from the copy shop, he reported it to his department head, who suggested he not use the test again, Mr. Butler said. The test was given as scheduled.

"His only error was in not being suspicious of the dishonesty of midshipmen," said Mr. Butler.

Originally, Mr. Wasta received a 10-day suspension. On appeal, it was cut to a 5-day suspension without pay.

The suspended professor is now grieving the decision to the superintendent, Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, under the terms of Naval Academy administration policy.

The grievance, filed Thursday, requested a delay of the suspension until a hearing could be conducted.

Mr. Wasta was informed Friday that the suspension would not be delayed and would go into effect today. However, the superintendent agreed to review the grievance. If Mr. Wasta is exonerated, the wages lost will be restored to him, Mr. Butler said.

The investigation of the students caught cheating is continuing through the Brigade of Midshipmen's Honor Committee, and no new charges have been brought.

Ms. Burt expressed disgust at the suspension. "Short of a professor's having sold or given the exam to any student, there is no reason for any faculty member to be treated this way."

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