History profs send letter calling for more accountability at UNC after fraud scandal

Posted by Dan Kane on April 24, 2014 

A second group of UNC-Chapel Hill professors has signed a letter to Chancellor Carol Folt calling for more answers and accountability in the wake of the long-running academic fraud scandal.

Twenty-two professors -- nearly half of UNC’s History Department -- have signed the letter sent to Folt on Thursday. A 23rd signee is an adjunct professor from another department.

The letter comes three weeks after a group of 32 retired faculty members sent a similar letter.

The history professors said they are “grateful for the steps you have taken for reform and greater transparency” and for bringing in Kenneth Wainstein, a former high-ranking U.S. Justice Department official, to conduct a new investigation. But they said they agreed with the concerns raised by the retired faculty about the need for more information about the origins of the scandal, the athletic connections to it, and why it stayed secret for so long.

They also called for “an end to the systemic temptation to maintain the athletic eligibility of underprepared students by academic fraud.” They cited an Athletic Department strategic plan that lists goals of finishing top 3 in the conference and top 10 nationally in each sport, both in athletics and academics. “Are these goals truly compatible? Which are the most important and which will bring the most rewards to coaches? What will be the role of the athletes’ special admissions program in achieving them?” they wrote.

They said whistle-blower Mary Willingham’s resignation last week creates a perception of retaliation among some “conscientious observers,” and recommended the university respond with an “aggressive effort to answer questions” and by promptly complying with requests from the media and others for public information.

Folt said in a statement released late Thursday that she “value(s) the perspectives of our faculty and welcome(s) their input.”

“Their recognition of the real progress we continue to make on reforms is credit to the efforts of many faculty, staff and students and is truly appreciated.” she said. “I also know that many questions remain, which is why we have asked former U.S. attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein to follow the facts and take the steps necessary to address the questions left unanswered during previous reviews. We will make the findings of his inquiry public.”

The History Department includes one of the more prominent critics of the university’s handling of the scandal – Jay Smith, who is co-authoring a book about it with Willingham. Smith signed the letter.

Smith’s efforts to improve academic integrity at UNC predate the scandal. Shortly after the scandal became public, he started a reform group to press the university to provide more information.

On Thursday, Smith became UNC’s second consecutive recipient of the Drake Group’s annual award for speaking out against academic corruption linked to college sports. He received the Robert Maynard Hutchings Award during a luncheon in Columbia, S.C., at the College Sport Research Institute’s annual conference. The award is named after the former University of Chicago president who opposed the commercialization of college football.

“It is the mission of the Drake Group to defend people like Jay Smith who are merely doing what they are supposed to do – defending academic integrity in the nation’s universities,” said Ohio University professor and Drake Group president-elect David Ridpath in a news release.

Willingham received the award last year.

(This report was updated to include Folt’s response to the letter.)

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