A Cal State Northridge investigation released Friday concludes there is no evidence that women's volleyball star Nancy Ma committed academic fraud, as alleged by former players.
The investigation's findings clear Ma of cheating on two tests and find that Northridge Coach Lian Lu and assistant Kathleen O'Laughlin did not instruct players on the volleyball team to complete schoolwork for Ma.
"Based on these findings, and unless additional information becomes available in the future, the university's review of these matters is closed," Northridge President Blenda J. Wilson said in an open letter.
Ma, a junior from China with limited English skills, has denied the allegations. Ma has not attended recent classes and could not be reached for comment on the findings.
In a statement released Friday by the university, Ma said, "I feel that I have been treated unfairly. I am confused and upset about the rumors surrounding me. I want to forget it and put everything behind me. I don't like the focus on me, it should be on [the] team. I'm looking forward to things returning to normal so I can concentrate on my studies."
The investigation of Ma began March 17. It was triggered after Ma's former teammate, Nicki Midwin, came forward to to say she had witnessed Ma's roommate Li Liu, also her tutor, handing Ma a portion of a psychology exam on March 3.
She also alleged completing schoolwork assignments last semester for Ma with the knowledge of coaches Lu and O'Laughlin.
The university's report found no evidence that Liu had written the essay portion of the psychology test for Ma.
According to the report, handwriting from Ma's essay test appeared to match samples of her handwriting from NCAA forms and other assignments in her psychology class this semester.
Also, handwriting obtained from Liu did not appear to match the essay submitted by Ma, according to the report. The school drew its conclusions without the assistance of a handwriting expert.
The university report also states no evidence could be found that Midwin completed schoolwork for Ma.
However, Midwin said Friday she stands by her statement that she completed schoolwork for Ma and that Ma's roommate was present for tests in psychology and religion classes.
"I think this whole investigation was one-sided," Midwin said. "I can understand why they believed [Ma]. She's a big part of the team and I'm no longer on the team."
The report also refuted allegations made by former player Ellie Flato that she had done classwork for Ma in the fall of 1996.
However, Flato on Friday stood by her statements to The Times earlier this week that she had completed a photography assignment for Ma.
"I did help [Ma] with it," Flato said.
Judy Brame, associate athletic director, conducted the 10-day investigation and later was assisted by Tom Shannon, faculty athletic representative.
Wilson said the investigation was conducted in compliance with the school's procedures in academic dishonesty cases.
The report goes into detail about the relationship between Ma and Liu, her roommate. It indicates that Liu probably was not present during the psychology test when Midwin said she witnessed the exchange of the essay.
Liu, a graduate student from China who also serves as Ma's official tutor, told investigators she turned in a chemistry lab report that she worked on between 9:30 and 11 a.m., the time of the psychology test, according to the investigation.
However, Liu acknowledged taking a test with Ma on Feb. 27 in a religion class she was not enrolled in. According to the report, Liu "wanted to see how much of the information she had retained" from reading the Religious Studies textbook while tutoring Ma.
"In her country, China, any student can take any exam whenever one is given," said Wilson, who visited China in 1996 on school business. Liu believed Northridge had the same system, Wilson said.
Liu took the religion exam despite having a tennis class at the same time.
According to the report, Liu did not attend the tennis class because she was ill but chose to take the Religious Studies exam.
Ma told investigators Liu did not sit next to her during the exam and was unaware Liu was in religion class that day. Midwin contradicted that account, saying Ma introduced her to Liu before the test and that Liu sat near Ma.
Liu and Ma each received grades of C-minus on the religion exam. Liu had 29 incorrect answers; Ma had 32. They each had 14 identical incorrect answers. The incorrect answers were scattered throughout the 75-question exam, prompting investigators to conclude Ma did not copy Liu's work.
According to the report, five Northridge volleyball players and six former players denied ever completing papers for Ma or having been requested by the coaches to do so. Several players confirmed that Midwin said she was doing work for Ma, but none witnessed Midwin doing Ma's work or heard coaches ask Midwin to do so, the report states.