Pass / Fail | So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs
Crime & Justice

Compton college spends $600,000 trying to remove three teachers in grades-for-money scandal

Students from both El Camino College and the Compton Center campus meet with admissions representatives in this file photo.
Students from both El Camino College and the Compton Center campus meet with admissions representatives in this file photo.
Michael Juliano/KPCC

A newly released investigative report states that three professors at El Camino College Compton Center were allegedly caught handing out grades for money -- but administrators say they were unable to do anything about it, and even had to pay two of the teachers to go away.

The professors finally did resign in 2010 and 2011, according to the report by California Watch, but only after years of hassle and well over a half-million dollars in legal and investigative fees were spent by the school.

Herkie Lee Williams, a psychology professor, stepped down in December 2010 with a month’s pay in his pocket, California Watch reports. Math professors Mohammad Ghafelebashi and Mohammad Boroujerdi both left in September 2011 with something extra to settle their cases: $26,000 and $34,000, respectively.

The professors are accused of giving bought-and-paid-for grades to international students who didn’t even attend classes. The more the students paid, the higher their grades, according to an internal investigation by the school.

California Watch uncovered the scandal and talked to investigators and school administrators, who say they were never able to actually fire the teachers. That’s because those involved in the case clammed up, changed their stories or hired lawyers, and school administrators found themselves unable to prove the allegations of grade fraud. The professors’ tenured status helped them as well.

Administrators say they were, however, able to prove the professors marked students as present in class when they were not, and gave chronically absent students good grades. The three teachers were immediately removed from class -- but then began the effort to remove them from the faculty.

In the end the three were allowed to resign, after El Camino College Compton Center spent two years and $600,000 trying to get rid of them. Adding insult to injury, the school had to pay Ghafelebashi and Boroujerdi extra to settle their cases.

“Ultimately, the district paid them to step down rather than continue racking up the hefty legal fees associated with trying to fire tenured professors,” California Watch reports.

Williams, whose salary reached into the six-digit range in the year he resigned, has denied all allegations against him. After leaving El Camino College Compton Center he retired and moved to Las Vegas.

California Watch was unable to reach Ghafelebashi and Boroujerdi for comment, although their settlements say they deny the allegations as well.

Administrators say the issue came to light after some of the students tried to transfer to CSU San Bernardino, where teachers realized their instruction was woefully inadequate despite having received good grades. Compton college was notified and an investigation ensued.

The students have all been suspended, and the college is now working on changing their grades to something reflecting their actual performance.

El Camino College Compton Center was known as Compton College up until 2006, when the school lost its accreditation over a corruption scandal. The El Camino Community College District took over the school at that time and kept its doors open as a satellite campus.