I’ve been thinking what I should do with my master’s diploma from UNC-Chapel Hill. How tarnished has my diploma become? If I were to put it on my wall, would it embarrass me? How could I explain the athletic scandal, how my alma mater has been conducting itself?
There is also my older daughter’s undergraduate diploma, hanging in her office, and my younger daughter’s medical-school diploma, waiting to find a permanent home when she has the time and space.
All three of us women in my immediate family consider ourselves Tar Heels, having gone to the school of our dreams. Now the polish on that dream is beginning to wear thin.
Not long ago with such thoughts swirling in my head, I went out to dinner with friends and invariably the conversation turned to UNC’s travails. I assume this must be happening all across town at dinner tables everywhere.
We posed questions seemingly still unanswered, even with the long, expensive investigation by the D.C. lawyer hired specifically to shed light on what happened: How did this occur to such a degree for so long? How did so many turn the other way? How could so many think they never would get caught? Does it not stretch logic to believe a departmental administrative assistant, even with the agreement and support of her department chair, might have created her own version of a “shadow curriculum”? Who had the bright idea in the first place? Why has the university been less than forthright so many times? What about the blame game aimed at lower players? What about the racial overtones of the whole affair? Where do we go from here?
As we talked, I offered my own experiences from teaching a couple of athletes in the business school at our university, which I did for two years, a school open only to juniors and seniors that requires special admission standards.
My teaching stint occurred even before the athletic scandal reportedly began. I told my tablemates I remembered a student manager of what I believed to be the football team telling me he was working 40 hours a week, which is why he found it so hard to perform at a higher level in my class. I sympathized with him, but that was about it. Still, I could feel the pressure he was under.
I also told my tablemates how I remembered a football player who thought I should give him a free pass due his status as a big-time college athlete. I declined and consequently, he took it upon himself one class period as he sat at the table across from me to remove his shoes and next his socks and then put his feet on the table and proceed to clip his toenails. If he thought I was going to be intimated, he was mistaken.
I knew these were small examples, but they highlighted the ways sports can infiltrate a classroom. They also pointed to the price we are willing to extract from our so-called “student-athletes.” Who has the time, my dinner companions and I concluded, to go to school truly under these circumstances?
What got us most excited about this sordid drama, however, was the performance of the adults much closer to the top, those charged with oversight: How could they have allowed UNC to be so co-opted by big-time sports? Was there nothing that could stop those forces of money, power and politics?
With the media leveling words at UNC such as “corrupt” and engaged in “fraud,” I was left wondering what my diploma actually stood for.
Linda Haac lives in Carrboro. You can reach her at email@example.com