Another image bruise for UNC-CH over no-show classes

January 3, 2014 

There wasn’t much new information in a New York Times story this week about the academic and athletics disgrace suffered in the past few years at an institution that once boasted of “the Carolina Way,” calling to mind visions of knights on white horses.

The News & Observer, after all, has been reporting on problems with the football program and the appalling bogus courses offered in the university’s African studies department, where athletes seemed to get preferential treatment, particularly from Julius Nyang’oro, the former department chairman.

Nyang’oro, as reported in The Times and previously in The N&O, was paid for a course that didn’t meet, in which athletes got grades for papers allegedly turned in. Nyang’oro, who has been silent since the scandal broke, is under a criminal indictment. He previously resigned his department chairmanship and retired.

His friends say he’s a scapegoat. Critics among the faculty say he hasn’t explained a thing about what happened. Presumably, when under oath in court, he won’t have a choice.

The Times report will most certainly spread the word about this embarrassing chapter in the university’s history to those who haven’t heard it. That’s not good for a university trying to restore its image and its reputation for a clean sports program. Not that the university has anyone else to blame.

Some faculty members, to their credit, have spoken out – not easy given the power of athletics boosters who just want all this to go away. History Professor Jay Smith is the most notable of that group. But too often, the response heard from Chapel Hill is that this entire episode must be laid at the feet of Nyang’oro and his former office administrator, Deborah Crowder, and no one else.

A friend of Nyang’oro’s, however, raises the legitimate question of how just two people could have been responsible for all that happened, given the numerous employees in the athletics department involved in academic support.

As legal proceedings move forward, more information will come to light, little of it likely to restore the university’s reputation.

Make no mistake. UNC-Chapel Hill is a top public institution, well-respected, with some faculty members who are the best in their fields. There is much good to be said, and the university will outlive this fiasco. But its leaders would do well to learn that the problems here, in both a football program run amok and a connected academic scandal, are not the product of poor public relations. Boosters pressed for “big time” sports, and they got it.

Despite constant reassurances that this university or any other could have top-quality, respected academic preeminence and nationally competitive athletics, the truth is that such a marriage is often turbulent. And what happened in Chapel Hill is a good example of why.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service