A report by three faculty members from a committee looking into the academic fraud scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill wont surprise current faculty and staff familiar with the power and influence of big-time athletics. Theyve long known that Chapel Hills traditionally sound academic world has sometimes been at odds with athletics and all the pressures it brings to bear on professors, students and the system. In fact, this report calls the marriage of academics and athletics one of two cultures.
The academic culture plays it straight. Advisers are trained to help keep students on track toward a timely degree. The athletics culture wont easily acknowledge it, but one of the aims of a special academic support system is to keep star athletes who may not be star students eligible for sports.
That apparently meant, in the case of the current scandal, sending them to Professor Julius Nyangoro and his African and Afro-American Studies department, where some athletes, most of them football players, took courses without instruction, requiring only a paper turned in at the end.
The players apparently were guided toward such courses by their academic support office, with 115 full- and part-time people housed in the new $70 million athletics center at Kenan Stadium.
That operation is funded by the athletics department. But while one official who oversees it works in the College of Arts and Sciences, the system also reports ultimately to a senior athletics department official. The faculty report called that arrangement ambiguous.
The report also asked, Why is there a separate center of support for athletes? Its a valid question. If these really are student athletes, why shouldnt they use the considerable counseling services available to all? Why should their support center be housed in a palace at Kenan Stadium?
And was Nyangoro, now retired, known to be friendly to athletes, maybe too friendly when it came to helping them out with courses? Investigations in progress will give some final answers to that question, but Nyangoro did retire under pressure after it was revealed that 54 courses within that department had little or no instruction attached to them and many if not all of them were largely filled with athletes. A summer school course that appears to have been set up expressly for members of the football team has drawn particular attention.
At some schools, where academic reputations are not comparable to UNC-Chapel Hills, that might draw a shrug. But UNC-CHs faculty is not happy about what this story of apparent academic fraud is doing to the universitys reputation. Hence multiple investigations. Hence, this committee.
One professor even ventured: The athletics enterprise has grown so large and remunerative that it may not be appropriate at universities anymore.
Eyes on Thorp
The report also is pointed about the administration, currently meaning Chancellor Holden Thorp. Thorp, a noted scholar at Chapel Hill and a dean before his elevation to chancellor, approved a multimillion-dollar buyout of football coach Butch Davis contract despite the fact that the university ultimately suffered sanctions from the NCAA because of problems during Davis tenure.
The faculty report says that there should be not just an external review of athletic advising and of the athletics department, but more forthright statements from the administration about the compromises made to host Division I athletics at UNC. Thats pretty strong stuff.
But its right. And the external review of what was going on in the African and Afro-American Studies department, of how things were handled by the administration, should go back at least a decade, as opposed to stopping at 2007. The university has never given a satisfactory explanation of why it wants the time frame limited.
Only by having a thorough external investigation can university leaders regain the confidence of the faculty, the alumni and the taxpayers who have invested billions of dollars in UNC-Chapel Hill. They all have a right to the whole story.