Saudi Students Identified in Montana Cheating Scandal


A number of Saudi Arabian students attending a Montana college were flown home by the country's diplomats after being caught in a cheating scandal at the school

Around 30 students at Montana Tech were discovered in the cheating scandal, in which they were accused of bribing a college employee to change their grades by offering gifts, writes Matt Volz for ABC News.

The staff member was fired after an investigation went public in 2012. However, it is only now that memos are being released, offering information that most of the students involved were of Saudi descent and that their government had flown them back home after meeting with the college administrators, which was labeled as "Secret/Urgent" in a Saudi memo. That memo went on to say that Montana Tech Chancellor Donald Blackketter suggested flying the students out of the country, and an unidentified diplomat had "issued travel tickets to those students … to return to the kingdom so they don't face jail or deportation by the American authorities."

As for the idea of the flights, the college's Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs Douglas Abbott said, "I think that we might've recommended that." While Montana law does not say anything pertaining to the changing of school records, even in return for gifts, Abbott said campus authorities at the school believed the students could face being arrested or deported.

"We didn't know whether this would happen, whether ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) would show up on the Montana Tech campus," he said.

Abbott went on to say that the transcript modifications were first noticed in October of 2011. As the school continued to look further into the discrepancies, even more irregularities were noticed. An unnamed employee interviewed by college investigators admitted to the changes, which included three years' worth of grade changes, deleting grades, and giving grades for classes that were never taken.

"It casts an unfavorable light on the institution," Abbott acknowledged in the video. But he said officials had been transparent. "The campus is not — has not — tried to hide any of this," he said.

Abbott said that the school had decided to go to the Saudi Embassy in Washington with the revelation on the advice of legal counsel. No comment was made as to why the topic of flying the students out of the country was suggested. Legal counsel did suggest that the students not be named or identified by nationality, although the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education in Montana, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security were all called in for further investigation.

However, a statement was released by Montana Tech Chancellor Don Blackketter, stating that neither the school or any entity associated with the school paid for the transportation of students to their home countries, adding that the school would have been in the wrong to not inform the Saudi Embassy of the situation, as it is up to them to arrange transportation for students whose visas have been revoked.

While most of the students were expelled from the school due to the incidents, it is unclear as to whether they flew out of the country before law enforcement showed up. In all, 18 students were expelled and an unknown number of graduates had their degrees revoked.

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