The recent revelation of systematic cheating at the University of North Carolina has shocked and dismayed many, especially those who attended and supported Carolina over the years. All the talk about Carolina’s academic standards has proven to be a sham. Like Penn State, Carolina’s marquee sports programs have been a fraud.
Like Penn State? How can you compare Carolina’s wrongdoings to Penn State’s? There certainly has been nothing more disgusting than the revelations about the sexual abuse perpetrated by former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. There is little doubt that it was known about for years. And in the process, the lives of adolescent boys were destroyed.
But the fraudulent classes and grades for athletes at Carolina have been known about for years, too. And the lives of the young players have been harmed as well. Seriously harmed. Carolina even sought to silence those who spoke out against this system of academic dishonesty. UNC is likely to pay a high price – and should.
Anyone who has spent a few nights at He’s Not Here during his or her undergrad years knows that not every player at Carolina is a Michael Jordan. The vast majority of football and basketball players never reach the NFL or the NBA. Thus, Carolina has an obligation to see that the athletes who play for their teams receive a college education. It failed.
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When I was doing graduate work at another university, I was contacted by the athletic department about a football player in one of my classes. The head of the tutoring program told me that this student had dyslexia and a learning disability. I acknowledged that this might be so, but that until he attended class and did something other than talk with his buddies when he did attend class, I could not determine the degree of his learning disorder.
College sports are big money. Big money and big influence. Even at community colleges where I have taught, young athletes with a poor educational background think they are going to be in the NBA in five years. Colleges that use athletes to advance their sports programs without demanding that those students develop their abilities off the court or field are committing abuse.
I have little doubt that athletic programs at many universities besides Penn State and Carolina are rife with abuse, academic and otherwise. PSU and UNC are simply the most visible and, supposedly, most shocking. But why should it be shocking? Even a significant penalty against Carolina will do little to change the system as long as the money and influence remain unchecked.
There will be future cases of abuse and academic dishonesty until the entire structure is changed. And if there are no significant changes, statements such as “Who could have imagined?” will be lies.
John Egan, a 1978 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, is a retired community college professor living in Wyoming.