The funny thing is, it’s often very easy. You don’t really need my instructions on how to detect con men (it’s usually men), because most con men are right out there. Very, very obvious. Let us consider three of them who are currently in the news, starting with … let’s call him the mildest of the cons.

This man’s trickery is in the long and highly rewarded academic tradition of Julius Nyang’oro, Thomas Petee, and Leo Wilton — all of them professors who systematically, over years, provided fake courses and fake grades for athletes. For professors who don’t give a rat’s ass about actually educating anyone, ever, the rewards of this behavior are deep, profound, and monetary. Schools almost entirely devoted to their football and basketball teams – like the schools these men work and worked for – reserve their eagerest gratitude for professors willing to confer upon athletes the trappings of academic respectability. Administrators can’t do it; trustees can’t do it — only professors can put the A-/B+ on the record and keep players eligible.

The system works beautifully, except that occasionally mistakes of judgment are made, and some female pipsqueak hired to help with the grading (in all of the cases I’ve mentioned, except that of Petee, it was a woman) turns out actually to care about educating people. She’s appalled when she realizes she’s part of a con game, and she goes public with the scandal.

In the case of Florida State University’s athlete-positive professor, we’re talking about an online (has to be online – makes it much, much easier to cheat or indeed do absolutely nothing and ace a course) hospitality course called Beverage Management.

I’m not making this up. At FSU, we have entirely entered the world of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, where a local university offers a course called Eating and Drinking: Basic Parameters.

But don’t be too harsh. FSU started out with much more curricular gravitas for its players. For decades, a music theory professor there let hundreds of athletes cheat their way through his intro course. When that scheme was revealed and became a big ol’ national scandal, FSU had to hustle to find another online curricular home for people it didn’t give a rat’s ass about educating. It lowered itself all the way down to a person who heads one section of his 33 page cv Scholary Honors (some of his students have had it up to here with his spelling). (Oh. And there’s this.)

Where does FSU go now? When this latest cheating scandal is over, where can they go that’s even lower than online courses in Beverage Management?

Okay, so the two other con men the media’s paying attention to this week:

Like the FSU guy with his article-length cv trumpeting his amazing accomplishments (come to think of it, Professor Gun-Spree also has the self-presentation of an egomaniac), the children’s book author whose PEN nomination has been withdrawn on PEN discovering what actual Native American writers have been trying to tell the world for years – the writer is a con man – also displays a hilarious sense of his own greatness.

And let’s end with Paolo Macchiarini, shall we? Stem cell research of course is the hard-science con man’s Emerald City … And this guy, like the others, didn’t exactly hide his borderline-psychotic world of lies.


UD thanks Barney.

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One Response to “Imposters. And How to Spot Them.”

  1. charlie Says:

    The FSU prof, who pretends to be an economist, makes big money inducing taxpayers to fund sports venues. Man, the long con of arena/stadium financing has to account for 20% of GDP. I’m as much an economist as that FSU grifter, so why not?

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