Hours after Kenneth Wainstein released his sobering report detailing a longstanding pattern of UNC-Chapel Hill athletes being steered toward fraudulent classes, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt tried to guide faculty, staff and students toward the future.
Folt, who took the helm in 2013, acknowledged the deep wounds of a scandal that was far more extensive than many had imagined. But in an hourlong session with several hundred faculty, staff and students in an auditorium at the UNC Genome Center, the chancellor and several other key administrators talked about reforms – those adopted since 2010, when the athletics scandal broke, and others to be developed.
Questions rained down on Folt and the faculty who made up a discussion panel. Is it time, one student asked, to stop striving for excellence in athletics and academics and just focus on academics?
“I actually believe that academics and athletics can coexist,” Folt said.
Law professor Eric Muller asked how it could be possible for a coach to have no idea that something of this nature was going on.
Athletics director Bubba Cunningham responded: “It’s a challenge to know every detail about every person in every class.”
Several students asked about issues of damage control. Taylor Webber-Fields, a senior from Fayetteville, wondered what the university planned to do to ensure that her degree from the African studies department would have value.
Why, one professor asked, did the other investigations – “whitewashes,” he called them – not turn up the same information?
Folt relayed the words of a friend after she got behind the lectern.
“The best disinfectant is light,” she said. That light reflected information from former African studies Chairman Julius Nyang’oro and former department administrator Deborah Crowder that had not been previously available, she said.
For most of her tenure, Folt has been leading a university accused of keeping the public in the dark about the breadth and depth of a scandal that she described as one that went beyond athletics and academics.
It was a problem that touched the entire university, she said, and could only be addressed by working together to adopt a new attitude in which no employee or student could fear exposing problems such as those that began almost two decades ago.
“We have students who may not have been born when it started,” Folt said.
Technology is available now that was not 18 years ago when Wainstein said Crowder began engineering the fraudulent classes, administrators said. That makes it easier to detect professors carrying a high load of unusual courses or athletes clustering in those classes.
University officials repeated numerous times that Wainstein’s report showed that it was the actions of a “very small number of people over a very long time” that caused the scandal.
Kim Strom-Gottfried, a professor in the school of social work whose research is on ethics and moral courage, was on her way to the meeting with Folt when she discussed her amazement at several revelations from the Wainstein report.
“It’s astonishing the length of time the conduct took place,” Strom-Gottfried said. Additionally, she said, she was surprised by the many “missed opportunities” to stop systemic abuse.
Strom-Gottfried recently joined the faculty athletics committee. She praised Folt for calling it a problem of the university, not just one of academics or athletics.
The university faces more than the issue of “lost reputation,” Strom-Gottfried said. “It’s about erosion of trust. That’s hard to rebuild.”
The Wainstein report was received across campus Wednesday with varying degrees of interest.
Some students asked: “Who is Wainstein?”
Others wanted to know if the NCAA would impose penalties.
However, many students seemed oblivious to the news and focused on schoolwork, some tuned in to laptops with their headphones drowning out the routine noise of the day.
Sarah Thompson, a forward and midfielder on the UNC women’s soccer team, watched the news conference in an auditorium at the Student Union.
Nearly a dozen students came and went as Folt, Ross and Wainstein outlined the problems. Thompson sat through the whole presentation.
“Obviously the extent of the irregularities and involvement is disappointing,” said the senior from San Francisco.
The investigation and the report were steps in the right direction, she said. “Hopefully, the information we have now is it and we can start to move on.”
Anjani Patel, a UNC sophomore from Scottsdale, Ariz., and Tyler Jakab, a sophomore from Atlantic Beach, were sitting at a table yards away from Kenan Stadium.
The two had thick organic chemistry books in front of them and had just checked their phones to find out more about the Wainstein report.
“It’s a little frustrating to see how we’re struggling and they’re not doing the work,” Jakab said.
Both said they faulted the people who steered the athletes to the no-show courses more than they did the students themselves.
“It would be difficult to be a student-athlete because of the time commitment and the academics here,” Jakab said. “But at the same time, it’s not a good look for the university.”
Both Jakab and Patel hoped the athletics and academic scandals would not leave a stain on their academic resumes.
“We want to make sure the hard work we put in is not looked down upon,” Patel said.
Alex Clegg, a senior from Greensboro in environmental studies and economics, said he hoped the Wainstein report was a final chapter in a sports story that he believes happens across the country.
“It’s a crappy defense, I know,” Clegg said. “Normally when I hear people say that I say, ‘you can’t prove it happens everywhere.’ Still, it stinks a little that we got outed for it.”
Michael Kosorok, a professor and chairman of the biostatistics department, was thinking about the Wainstein report as he walked across campus late in the afternoon.
“I was trying to think about it from the administrators’ point of view – of how well do you scrutinize everything that’s going on,” Kosorok said.
Kosorok, who has been at UNC for the past 8 1/2 years, said he is a sports fan, particularly of the women’s soccer team.
He lauded Folt for how she has handled the problems and described Wainstein’s report as thorough.
Kosorok said he hoped the university could move forward.
“I’m more concerned about doing the right thing now than focusing on punishing people,” he said.