Students of Professor Who Didn't Show Up Keep Their A's and Get Refunds, Too

November 09, 2011

Students at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences who received A's for two courses that were never taught will get their money back, but they'll still get to keep the academic credit, an administrator reported on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the university is investigating what it referred to as "egregious breaches of professional ethics and academic standards" that led to last month's resignation of Venetia L. Orcutt, department chair and director of the physician-assistant-studies program.

According to a statement released by the university on Wednesday, Ms. Orcutt had been assigned to teach a sequence of three one-credit courses in evidence-based medicine over three semesters last year. The first semester of the required course was face to face, and she showed up for that. But according to three students who complained to the university's provost last month, Ms. Orcutt went missing when the course sequence shifted online.

"We determined that, in fact, Dr. Orcutt did not actually teach the two online modules of EBM but nevertheless awarded the grade of A to all the students who had been enrolled in the course," Jeffrey S. Akman, interim vice provost for health affairs and dean of the medical school, said in a written statement.

After reviewing the course work of the enrolled students, the university decided that all of them had met the learning objectives of the two online courses "through other courses, clinical experience, and educational activities embedded throughout the curriculum."

As a result, they'll all get tuition refunds for the two online course modules, but they'll get to keep the credit for those courses that appears on their transcripts. Students who want to take the second and third semesters online for continuing-medical-education credit will be able to do so for free.

After being contacted by e-mail, Ms. Orcutt referred all calls to her former assistant, Jamie Lewis, who then referred calls to the media-relations office.

Until 2008, Ms. Orcutt was the program director for physician-assistant studies at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Her Web site said she had won teaching awards and was active in professional associations. A medical-center spokesman said she left voluntarily in 2008 and has not been teaching there since then.

Meanwhile, at George Washington, Dr. Akman said he is appointing an independent review committee made up of faculty members from outside the health-sciences school to ensure that similar problems don't happen in the future.