Hard evidence confirms UNC's woes

Documents illustrate how tutors kept inferior UNC-CH students in the football mix.

October 1, 2012 

It just makes one wonder what was going through the minds of tutors and their supervisors and professors who were involved in providing special help for athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, particularly some football players, who were not good students and apparently didn’t care that they weren’t.

Give the non-scholars credit, though. Clearly, they had self-awareness. They knew that they had a ticket to ride, at least for a while, because they could play football and the athletics powers-that-be wanted them to remain eligible.

One way or another.

One way is to attend class, do papers and homework, and make the grade. Another was to allow tutors to do the required writing, or to paraphrase other work, and count on friendly professors, such as Julius Nyang’oro, then head of African and Afro-American Studies, to give them a break.

And give an assist to administrators higher up the line. They didn’t bother to supervise Nyang’oro, who had numerous classes in his department that provided no instruction and required only a paper at semester’s end. That was especially helpful to some (not all) football players who, documents from the Academic Support Program obtained by The N&O suggest, demonstrated little concern about their academic work. They must have known the work would get done – one way or another.

More suspicion

Consider a course titled AFRI 370, an upper-level course for seniors in African and Afro-American Studies that was listed as including “lectures, readings and research projects.” But there were no lectures and no required reading, and among the students enrolled were several freshman football players who struggled to read and write on a college level. This in a seniors’ course.

Although the information examined by The N&O didn’t by any means include all football players, it does rightly raise suspicions and deepens the cynicism of those who wonder how many more problems will turn up as investigations proceed.

The N&O’s latest dismaying report should get the attention of the NCAA, college sports’ governing body, which, according to UNC-CH officials, did not believe the issues that have arisen constituted violations.

And yet, thanks to these documents, we see that some of those involving in tutoring or supervising tutors characterized Nyang’oro as being very “reasonable” when it came to athletes, that tutors in some cases provided more “help” than was appropriate, and that for football players who were not good students, the solution to academic difficulty often was a “paper class,” where only a paper was required and there was no class attendance.

NCAA interest?

It’s hard to imagine how this kind of thing doesn’t constitute athletes getting special treatment, or “improper benefits,” which is supposed to be an NCAA violation.

These documents show that at least in the cases of those athletes mentioned in them there was a pattern of low standards for courses, that there were too many athletes who were poor students and clearly couldn’t do university-level work, and that advisers were there to keep them eligible.

For his part, Chancellor Holden Thorp says he’s passed along the information to former Gov. Jim Martin and auditors who are reviewing the troublesome events involving academics and athletics. Martin is leading a probe into the situation which Thorp promises will be thorough.

In the long run, it’s far better for the university to be open with records (not to the point of breaking laws that legitimately protect students’ privacy) and to acknowledge problems. And within this painful process, there must be a dialogue as to whether the embarrassment that has been brought about by the single-minded desire of boosters and some alumni to play “big time” sports has been worth it.

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