Rawls Dean Changed MBAs’ Grades, Resigns

Texas Tech professor Jay Conover

Texas Tech professor Jay Conover

The faculty panel found that testimony suggested “intimidation with regard to the desire on the part of Dean Nail to ex post facto claim that conversations with colleagues constituted a sufficient grade appeals board and that they should agree with this claim. Additional testimony by witnesses indicated that there may have been other intimidation tactics as well.

“We believe the atmosphere of intimidation was real, and that Dean Nail’s conversations with (two names redacted from report) were intended to intimidate witnesses and falsify their testimony.

“As a result of these events we believe that Dean Nail’s ability to fulfill his supervisory role fairly and impartially is significantly compromised. Dean Nail’s conduct raises serious questions . . . about academic ethics, fair practice, and witness intimidation,” the report says. “The evidence supporting these, especially after the changed grades were reported, potentially represents a very serious infringement of academic freedom, workplace fairness, and the integrity of the degree program.”

Nail this week announced his resignation from the deanship, effective at the end of the calendar year. He will remain a tenured professor. The faculty panel report indicates that Nail had earlier been unrepentant. “It is even more troublesome that Dean Nail concluded his July 13th memo to Provost (Lawrence) Schovanec with, ‘I would take the same action again,'” the report says.


The faculty investigators found no indications that Conover’s grading had been arbitrary or capricious. “There is no evidence to support the argument that the grade changes were justified,” the report says.

Nail had told the panel he would’ve liked to follow the required grade-appeal process, but it wasn’t done, in part, because he had trouble tracking down Conover. “Dean Nail stated that he was unsuccessful on three separate occasions at finding Dr. Conover in his office during posted office hours,” the faculty report says. “However, no alternative attempts or efforts (for example, communication via e-mail or by leaving voicemail messages) were made to communicate with Dr. Conover.”

The faculty panel offered no opinion as to whether the four students whose grades were changed should be subjected to a review or investigation. “It is the consensus of the committee that they appear to have followed direction in availing themselves of the alternative exam opportunity that led, ultimately, to the grade change submissions done at the Dean’s direction,” the report concludes.


According to the local paper, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, three of the four students whose grades were changed graduated in May and received their MBAs, while the fourth was to graduate at the end of the summer semester. Conover had spoken to the paper after learning his students’ grades were changed and filing a complaint with the Provost. “When administrators step in and start giving grades, there’s no point in having faculty and there’s no point in having people take courses,” Conover said. He told the paper that the students had come to him at the end of the semester to ask for better grades so they could meet graduation requirements, but he told them they were too late, and would have to retake the course – required for graduation – if they wanted their MBAs.

Conover says his move to the math and stats department came after he met with Nail to discuss the students’ poor grades. The dean had showed him emails from students whose grades were to end up changed, and who were attributing their performance in Conover’s class to poor teaching, he said. “On the basis of those emails the dean told me, ‘You’re not a good fit for the college,’” Conover said. “He has as a result of this moved me – essentially took me out of the business school – moved me to the department of mathematics and statistics.”

Conover said in an email to InsideHigherEd that he was glad Nail was resigning, but sorry it wasn’t going to happen until December 31. He also called for the four students to have their “bogus MBA degrees” stripped, or that the students be forced to make up for the stats course in which their final grades were changed. “Those four students need to either return their MBA degrees, or transfer in a legitimate graduate-level course in statistics,” Conover told InsideHigherEd.

Nail today (Nov. 11) responded to Poets&Quants‘ request for an interview by emailing a letter, dated today, that he’d sent to the Provost. In the letter, which he asked the Provost to append to the faculty panel’s report, Nail defends the grade changes and attacks Conover. Nail admits he didn’t follow grade-appeal rules “to the letter” but claims the matter was “an extraordinary case” and if he hadn’t gone around the policy “deserving students” would have been unable to graduate because an appeal wouldn’t have been resolved by graduation day. “I firmly believe that I acted in the best interest of students who were treated in an unfair manner by a professor who was unwilling to explain his grading decisions to them or to me,” Nail writes.

The dean also takes aim at the faculty panel that investigated the grade changes, saying the members hadn’t spoken to any of the involved students, or to professors of two students who had previously taken Conover’s stats course, exhibited “superior performance,” but failed the course and subsequently filed complaints about Conover. Because of the way Conover had treated and graded those two students, Nail writes, the two were assigned to make up their statistics requirement by taking stats from a faculty member outside the business school. 


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