Whod have thought that an obscure course in the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Naval Science, Naval Weapons Systems, would have been so fascinating to one particular group of students with something else in common? The group, in that spring semester of 2007, consisted of six mens basketball players.
Another thing they had in common, The News & Observer reported Wednesday, was an academic adviser who had joined the athletics program shortly after mens basketball Coach Roy Williams was hired in 2003. He came from the University of Kansas, where Williams had coached previously.
One of the players enrolled in the class, Bobby Frasor, is now the director of basketball operations at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Frasor was refreshingly candid about the class. He said the instructor, Lt. Brian Lubitz, discussed the class with counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes, which provides academic advising that in many cases helps keep athletes eligible to play.
Frasor said the class was recommended by Wayne Walden, former assistant director for academic support who had come from Kansas.
An easy ride?
Now, did Walden or other advisers turn up a burning interest on the part of athletes and particularly basketball players in Naval weapons systems? Its hard to say, but one thing that might have made the class interesting was the fact that Lubitz said in his course syllabus that he didnt anticipate any quizzes and tests.
Lubitz has been long gone and now works in Philadelphia for the investment firm Goldman Sachs. It also turns out that in four other Naval Science courses, one a weapons class in the fall of 2008, athletes accounted for more than half the enrollments.
One has to give Lubitz this: Compared to the courses other athletes, primarily football players, were taking in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, his Naval Science course was Harvard Law.
The university has been dealing with the academic fraud question in the African and Afro-American Studies department formerly headed by Julius Nyangoro for months now. Football players constituted an inordinate number of independent study students under Nyangoro in courses the university has labeled as aberrant.
And there were other instances where a star athlete got good grades in that department helpful to maintaining his eligibility.
The Naval Science Department does deserve credit for acting quickly to fix what it rightly saw was a problem. The course in question was taught only one time by Lubitz. The now-former head of the department, Capt. Stephen Matts, ordered that the course requirements be changed to be more rigorous. The current department head, Capt. Doug Wright, said it would have been difficult, under the old requirements, to determine just how an individual student was doing.
Once again, here is an example of an academic support program being aimed at keeping the stars on the field or on the court. That is not, or should not be, the purpose of a counseling program supposedly aimed at helping people achieve in the classroom on their own. And yes, once again, the question is raised: Why should athletes, already isolated enough thanks to their practice and game schedules, have their own adviser system?
Finally, why would such a specialized course aimed at future Naval officers even be open to other students? One hopes Chancellor Holden Thorp, who is resigning to return to the faculty, could get to the bottom of that on his own, without waiting for reports from ongoing investigations related to the previously disclosed academic fraud.