Editorial

Not adding up

UNC-Chapel Hill’s credibility is not helped by a new report on academic scandal.

February 1, 2013 

Another report from Baker Tilly, the management consulting firm that aided former Gov. Jim Martin in the probe of academic scandal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, doesn’t help the case that the bogus classes in African studies did not constitute an athletics as well as an academic scandal.

Nearly half of the students in 172 phony classes in African studies were athletes. And of the 512 suspect grade changes found during that period, nearly half involved athletes. But Baker Tilly says that’s not evidence of an athletic scandal.

So what is it then? An incredible coincidence?

Gov. Martin reached that same finding in his overall report, which was much touted when announced, but decidedly uninspiring when released. It appeared that the scope of the investigation was limited, which has prompted suspicion that the university did not want it to go too deeply.

No scandal?

A report by The News & Observer’s Dan Kane and J. Andrew Curliss included Baker Tilly’s explanation for the conclusion that no athletic scandal existed. Raina Rose Tagle, a Baker Tilly partner, said the fact that that nonathletes in the classes also got suspect grade changes shows this was purely an academic scandal involving one department.

The problem with that logic is that athletes enrolled in the university account for 5 percent of the undergraduate student population but made up 45 percent of the students enrolled in the classes. Tagle says they might have been heavily enrolled in African studies because a large number of athletes were African-American.

There’s some logic there, but then there are the problems, already reported by The News & Observer, with prominent athletes being given extraordinary help with grades far outside the rules, and the presence of an academic advising system for athletes that is alleged to have steered many of them to certain courses. One former adviser transferred out of the academic advising office because of issues like that.

The latest report, Kane and Curliss wrote, did not disclose how many football and men’s basketball players were in the suspect classes, nor did it say how many of those classes were taken by each athlete compared to nonathletes. And it didn’t explain how some freshman football players got into classes normally reserve for upperclassmen.

The UNC Board of Governors, which received the report, may seek and get more information next month.

Staying eligible

Of concern to UNC-Chapel Hill is the possibility that it could be shown that athletes were given breaks in order to help them stay academically eligible to play sports. If that’s found to be the case, the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics, might open a new investigation of its own. The report didn’t say whether, for example, grade changes helped to preserve athletics eligibility.

At this point, an NCAA probe would seem to be a prudent step.

Consider the comment of Gerald Gurney, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, who is a past president of the National Association of Academic Advisers. Gurney told The N&O that the way the new report was written “is obviously a smokescreen.”

It is long since time that this two-year embarrassment was answered with an explanation that doesn’t insult the intelligence of alums and supporters of UNC-Chapel Hill and the taxpayers of North Carolina. The university seems to believe that this will all go away somehow, and that the disclosure already made are no big deal.

But this is a big deal. This has been a university that boasted often of the “Carolina way,” of being an example of a “big time” athletics program that worked in tandem as part of an institution dedicated first to academic excellence.

But the “way” was not working as well as top officials believed. Now the Board of Governors, with its many new appointees, has a chance to demand a tough, thorough, candid and complete explanation of what happened.

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