Falsified Peterson survey not a surprise to some

01/10/2004 9:15 AM

11/19/2007 2:37 PM

TURLOCK -- The reputation of California State University, Stanislaus, could suffer following news that students apparently cheated on a change-of-venue survey related to the Scott Peterson murder trial, some students and faculty members said Friday.

"It's a sad state of affairs the way it is," said sociology professor Walter Doraz. "When someone admits they committed a fraud, then that's a problem."

Kyle Nugent of Modesto, a senior studying communications at Stanislaus State, said he had questions about the alleged cheating: Why didn't the students come forward sooner, knowing the survey results would factor into a judge's decision? And why did sociology professor Stephen Schoenthaler allow the cheating to happen?

"There should be some kind of disciplinary action," he said.

The survey, conducted in a class taught by Schoenthaler, found that Bay Area and Southern California residents are less likely than those in Stanislaus County to have decided that Scott Peterson is guilty of murder.

Six of the 65 students assigned to conduct the survey said Thursday they made up every answer they submitted because they were short on time and money.

They were required to participate in the survey for 20 percent of their grade and were given no money for dozens of lengthy long-distance phone calls, they said.

Faculty on campus Friday said they are concerned for the university's reputation and the research conducted there.

Diana Demetrulias, vice provost of academic affairs, launched an investigation Friday. University spokesman Don Hansen said the investigation would take a week.

Psychology professor Jamie McCreary said she will reserve judgment until the investigation is complete.

"I think most faculty are not making a judgment until we know what happened," Mc-Creary said. "Until we do, I just feel very badly for the university, the students and Dr. Schoenthaler."

McCreary said the university has very high standards, and she's fearful that the community will have unwarranted distrust of research conducted there.

"This accusation doesn't fit with the way I know we do things," said McCreary, who has taught at Stanislaus for 29 years.

She said she has several research contracts in the community, so she'd like the matter to be cleared up. She said students are paid to do work on her projects and "I'm with them every step of the project."

Steven Hughes, director of the university's Center for Public Policy Studies, also voiced concern. Hopefully, he said, people would be familiar enough with the center's research to know the work is legitimate.

Survey research, he said, is costly and time-consuming, and is not conducted at the center.

"It's evolved into a highly skilled specialty," Hughes said.

Phyllis Gerstenfeld, a professor of criminal justice, said: "I think there's a lot of concern about the reputation of the department."

She said because the students had time pressures and monetary costs to consider, she's not surprised they fabricated data.

"I would have been tempted to make stuff up," she said. "I wouldn't have done it, but I would have been tempted. It certainly would not have been the way I would have designed the research project."

Students also were disturbed by the news.

"It just kind of hurts the credibility of our school," said 25-year-old Joe Carranza, a graduate student in communication education.

But some students said fudging a survey assignment is not unusual.

"Most of us do it just to get it done," said 19-year-old Chris Fisher, a freshman who lives on campus. "You ask a couple people (and make up the rest)."

Josh Hoffler, a 26-year-old from Modesto, agreed.

"You think, 'Hey, it's just for a class. It's just for a grade,'" said Hoffler, who attends Modesto Junior College and was visiting Stanislaus State on Friday. "I don't think that the people that did it really thought it was going to be used in court."

Frances Estupinan, a 22-year-old liberal studies major from Turlock, said it was the "topic of the morning."

Estupinan added, "I think it's just embarrassing for the whole school."

Bee staff writer Melanie Turner can be reached at 578-2366 or mturner@modbee.com.

Editor's Choice Videos

Join the Discussion

The Modesto Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service