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School: Chief received special deal

Rodney Monroe got “preferential treatment” and was improperly awarded a bachelor's degree from Virginia Commonwealth University last year, according to a new report.

But VCU investigators found no evidence that Monroe did anything wrong, instead placing the blame on a small group of faculty and administrators who pushed the degree through.

The report, released Friday by the school's governing Board of Visitors, doesn't spell out why the administrators cut corners to give Monroe the degree.

Monroe, then police chief in Richmond, Va., began work June 16 as Charlotte-Mecklenburg's chief. A bachelor's degree was a requirement for the Charlotte job.

The chief declined to discuss the report Friday but said in a statement that he believes he earned the degree and sought no special treatment.

Monroe was awarded a degree in interdisciplinary studies despite meeting only about half of its 28 academic requirements, the report says. It doesn't specify the requirements.

Monroe took only two classes at the school, far fewer than a transfer student needs for a VCU degree. Monroe had earned more than 100 credit hours from other institutions.

Board members considered revoking Monroe's degree, the report says. But university policy allows revocation only when a student is found to have committed academic misconduct, and the board found no evidence of misconduct by Monroe.

To earn a VCU degree, a transfer student must take 25 percent of his coursework from the school. In Monroe's case, that should have been 30 of the 120 credit hours required for his degree. But Monroe's two classes earned him only six credit hours.

The Board of Visitors said it reviewed more than 15,000 degrees granted since 2002 and found only two – Monroe's and a posthumous degree – awarded to students who didn't meet the 25 percent standard without an approved exception.

“I sought no special favors or exceptions to the residency requirement or any other exemptions,” Monroe said in an e-mailed statement late Friday. “During the investigation, I fully cooperated with VCU and voluntarily waived my privacy rights to ensure a comprehensive investigation was conducted.”

Monroe has repeatedly declined to discuss details of his interactions with VCU staff. He said previously he met with a VCU administrator in late 2006 to find out what he had to do to earn a degree and that he followed her advice.

On Friday, Monroe said he wants to move on and be judged by his job performance in Charlotte.

The report does not identify what it calls “a small number of employees” who arranged for the university to award the degree. Two deans and a high-level administrator have either resigned or been demoted, and other administrators have been disciplined, VCU officials said in July.

The university announced many of its findings in June, when it completed its investigation of Monroe's degree. But VCU's accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, had asked for a detailed, official report.

The university generally does not make such reports public but decided to in this case because of the public attention paid to Monroe's degree, said university spokeswoman Pam Lepley.

The Board of Visitors considered revoking Monroe's degree or requiring him to take more courses at VCU, the report says. Monroe had already earned 118 undergraduate hours, mainly through the FBI Academy and the online University of Phoenix.

After receiving his VCU degree, Monroe has earned 15 graduate credit hours. The board considered applying those toward his undergraduate work.

But those options would have forced VCU to withdraw a degree it had conferred on Monroe a year before, which “was not viewed as a viable option.”

In the report, board members said investigators “encountered considerable difficulties in the course of (their) investigation, including conflicting statements, failing memories, unwillingness to explain situations and unexplained loss of relevant documents and records.”

The omissions made it difficult for board members to determine why the administrators involved allowed the degree to go through.

Monroe has said he met with Robyn Lacks, an associate professor at VCU, in 2006 to discuss his degree requirements. Lacks still works at VCU.

But VCU announced in July that it had disciplined others. Jon Steingass, the dean of the school's University College, resigned and had taken a job out of state. Robert Holsworth, former interim dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences; resigned his post but remains on the faculty.

Michael Pratt, former interim director of VCU's school of government, also resigned his post – citing objections about how the probe was handled. He remains on the VCU faculty.

In December, the accrediting agency, SACS, will review the report and decide whether sanctions against VCU are warranted.

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