Broken hearts

UNC-Chapel Hill trustees must be more aggressive in investigating a potential scandal.

June 12, 2012 

Wade Hargrove loves the University of North Carolina as much as anyone does. So it’s alarming to hear this graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and its law school characterize still-unfolding revelations of a scandal connected to academics and athletics as “troubling in the extreme.” And Hargrove, current chairman of the school’s board of trustees and a man cautious with words, had it right when he said, “You can’t love Carolina and not be heartbroken.”

Let’s hope other trustees share his sentiments, for they must be aggressive in getting to the bottom of yet another embarrassment related to the football team.

First, Butch Davis was forced out as coach and then-Athletics Director Dick Baddour retired early as improper connections came to light between athletes and agents. There were sanctions from the NCAA governing body.

Since then, many questions have arisen about courses within the African and Afro-American Studies department apparently tainted by academic fraud. The latest surround a course taught in summer school last year (or not taught, depending on one’s interpretation) by Julius Nyang’oro, the department’s former head.

Nyang’oro retired after earlier News & Observer stories reported that he had one star football player in an upper-level class in the department in 2007, and the player received a B-plus even though he had not yet taken a remedial writing course. And there was another instance in which a player submitted a paper with material that appeared to have been plagiarized. He also was in Nyang’oro’s class.

Some ‘way’

Now The N&O’s Dan Kane and Andrew Carter report that in a summer school class “taught” last year by Nyang’oro, 18 of the 19 students enrolled were football players, and the other was a former football player. The course was supposed to be in lecture format but instead was handled as independent study.

The university, which used to boast of its “clean” athletics program, the “Carolina way,” has always maintained that it does not treat athletes different from other students, that they are not guided to courses designed to keep them eligible because of easy material or agreeable professors.

That sanctimony, especially, makes this latest development an outrage. And Chancellor Holden Thorp remains evidently reluctant to ask and answer the questions that linger, questions that must be answered before all those broken hearts Hargrove has been talking about can be mended.

They include:

How was it possible for this course to be added to the summer school list, for Nyang’oro to take it over from the professor who normally would have taught it and for it to include only football players (who knew to register for it within days of registration opening) without someone in the academic support staff or in the university’s middle-level administration not raising an eyebrow, and more?

What do students who were in the class say? Do Thorp and others want to find out?

Who’s in charge?

Where is the accountability in terms of the university ensuring that students, athletes or not, get the instruction to which they’re entitled? Nyang’oro taught this class as one requiring a paper at the end, but performed no instructional duties.

Thorp has tackled the issue at those points where The N&O has obtained records and reported on what happened, or didn’t happen, but he hasn’t seemed to push for a really aggressive investigation – even while the university’s academic standards have been corrupted and the “Carolina way” has become a joke.

The public has a right to know how this happened, who is responsible and how that individual and perhaps others will answer for this embarrassment. The State Bureau of Investigation and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office are looking into Nyang’oro’s department.

Trustees now must insist on answers to these “troubling” questions, no matter how uncomfortable and embarrassing the process of getting them may be. This university has been shaken to its core, and these problems must be taken seriously.

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