The New York Times’ Pete Thamel has a peak behind the curtain of Auburn University sociology professor Thomas Petee. Knowledge Is Good!

The star running back Carnell (Cadillac) Williams, now playing in the National Football League, said the only two classes he took during the spring semester of his senior year were one-on-one courses with Professor Petee.

At one point, Professor Petee was carrying the workload of more than three and a half professors, an academic schedule that his colleagues said no one could legitimately handle.

The Auburn football team™s performance in the N.C.A.A.™s new rankings of student athletes™ academic progress surprised many educators on and off campus. The team had the highest ranking of any Division I-A public university among college football™s six major conferences. Over all among Division I-A football programs, Auburn trailed only Stanford, Navy and Boston College, and finished just ahead of Duke.

Among those caught off guard by Auburn™s performance was Gordon Gee, the chancellor of Vanderbilt, a fellow university in the Southeastern Conference and its only private institution. Vanderbilt had an 88 percent graduation rate in 2004, compared with Auburn™s 48 percent, yet finished well behind Auburn in the new N.C.A.A. rankings.

œIt was a little surprising because our graduation rates are so much higher, Mr. Gee said. œI™m not quite certain I understood that.”

The sociology department became œa dumping ground for athletes, according to one sociology professor, Paul Starr.

Professor Petee denied that he favored athletes, saying there were only œa handful of them in his directed readings. He said nothing was unethical about the number of courses he taught, though other professors viewed his workload as unprecedented and unmanageable.

Mr. Williams (above) said Professor Petee asked him to autograph a football once when they met in his office. œTo be honest with you, if they think that™s a problem, they need to investigate all the teachers at Auburn, Mr. Williams said.