HELENA, Montana – The head of a Montana state university appropriately handled a grade-changing scandal involving students from Saudi Arabia, the state's university system spokesman said Tuesday, after recently published Saudi Embassy memos revealed the chancellor suggested diplomats fly the students home to avoid deportation or arrest.
Spokesman Kevin McRae said he does not recall whether Montana Tech Chancellor Donald Blackketter told the state commissioner of higher education about Blackketter's recommendation to the Saudi diplomats, but the university system has no plans to examine the chancellor's actions described in the memos published by WikiLeaks.
"We don't recall being consulted about that, nor would be expect to be consulted about that, because we knew Chancellor Blackketter was managing the situation," McRae said. "He acted appropriately and took appropriate measures."
A Montana Tech investigation found a group of more than 30 students gave gifts to an employee of the Butte college in exchange for changing their transcripts. The investigation was made public in 2012, but the memos showed for the first time the students were almost all Saudis and their government flew them out of the United States at the suggestion of Blackketter.
One memo described a meeting taking place in Washington between Saudi diplomats, Blackketter and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Douglas Abbott just before the scandal broke in January 2012. The memo said a diplomat later issued travel tickets to the students so they wouldn't face jail or deportation by the American authorities.
Blackketter has not returned messages or emails for comment. Abbott previously told The Associated Press that the memo's account of the meeting sounded accurate, and that campus authorities at the time believed the students could have been arrested.
McRae said Montana Tech handled the academic fraud investigation and discipline responsibly and appropriately. Academic sanctions were imposed on students, and the employee was fired, he said.
Eighteen students were expelled in the scandal, seven returned to the school and some of the others who had already graduated had their degrees revoked.
McRae said he did not see anything unusual in Blackketter and Abbott meeting with Saudi diplomats to discuss the students caught up in the scandal. "I don't think anybody is suggesting that students were given special treatment at Montana Tech that unfairly advantaged them," he said.
Students from Saudi Arabia represent the second-largest foreign contingent at Montana Tech, next to students from Canada. A 2010 Montana Tech study found there were 80 students from Saudi Arabia enrolled in 2009, up from 13 in 2004.