Richardson said that academic changes will be made, but noted that athletics was brought into the equation to draw more interest to media reports on the subject.
"This is clearly an academic problem for Auburn University," Richardson said. "I believe athletics was infused into this discussion to provide sufficient traction to make it newsworthy." He added that what he believes was an isolated academic problem has been corrected by policies that are currently in effect.
In a 40-minute announcement/press conference, Richardson said he did not anticipate any issues for the university on the athletic front with the NCAA or the academic front with SACS, its accreditation agency. However, Richardson made it very clear he was unhappy with an excessive number of directed readings classes being taught in the two academic units--the department of sociology, anthropology, criminology and social work in the College of Liberal Arts and the adult education program, which is in the department of educational foundations, leadership and technology in the College of Education.
Richardson announced the men in charge of those departments Thomas Petee (sociology, anthropology, criminology and social work ) and James E. Witte (adult education) have stepped down from their positions and made it clear that was done at his insistence. Both men, who are tenured professors, will continue to teach classes.
"I will say to you, without any hesitation, our academic reputation is far more important than all of the athletic programs put together," Richardson said. However, he later added that he is "very proud of athletic program" and the coaches employed by the university and the university's investigation into the directed readings issue confirmed his belief.
Richardson said that the committee that made recommendations to him will continue to do interviews, but stated he has sufficient information to remove Petee and Witte from their administrative duties. "I do not believe that the professors conducted themselves in a malicious or self-serving way, but clearly very poor judgment was evidence," the president said.
In other points of interest from the AU interim president:
*Richardson announced new policies that will limit the number of directed reading/independent study courses that can be taught and noted approval for each course taught must come from university administrators. He said that in the past three years, one percent of AU classes have been taught using that method.
*Richardson said that a study of the directed readings program in sociology and adult education showed that 18 percent of the students came from one of AU's 21 intercollegiate athletic teams. The percentage from football is 7.5 percent.
*Richardson said that he has contacted the NCAA and told them that the university will provide a complete report on the subject and he anticipates no issues with that governing body.
*Richardson said one of the questions the campus committee studied was to see if there was any pressure placed on professors or others to assure that athletes received preferential treatment on the academic front. "There is no evidence that the athletic program--coaches, counselors or athletic staff had improper communications with or pressured faculty in any way. That is something in which I take extreme pleasure in."