Durham News: Opinion

The Conversation, Nov. 16: Irving Koppel, N. V. Parlikad, Virginia Penley and Walter Mack

More athlete than student

Granted, there may be such a thing as a student-athlete, but it is common knowledge that the majority of those who are called such are more athlete than student.

The basic job of a university is to educate and to do research, not to play basketball or football. We’ve had enough of the athletic tail wagging the scholastic dog.

Why, if some teams are so profitable and support the lesser sports, shouldn’t universities sponsor their own teams just as professional teams are sponsored by commercial entities? The team could carry the name of the sponsoring university on each individual jersey, but athletes should not be required to attend the school. Playing football or basketball at the college level has become a full-time job. Thus, they should be paid for their efforts. Should any of the players truly wish to earn an honest degree, they could be granted a four-year scholarship after having played for four years. These phony classes and easy graders have been around since the games have been broadcast over the radio in the 1920s.

Rather than subject academia to scandal after scandal, the separation of big-time athletics from the real job of higher education would protect the reputations of the schools and the athletic departments.

Irving Koppel


Willingham was raked over coals

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill could have saved at least $2 million, and prevented the good name and reputation of a dedicated researcher from being sullied had it heeded Mary Willingham’s warnings that there was skullduggery afoot between AFAM and the athletic department.

As early as November 2012, Willingham went public in an N&O interview charging that the university was recruiting illiterate student athletes and steering them to sham lecture courses they were not required to attend. But apparently it fell on deaf ears or was simply ignored by those in the ivory tower. Nevertheless, outside the university she was recognized and honored with the Robert Maynard Hutchins Award for defending academic integrity in the face of omnipotent college athletics.

But it took a CNN interview which became viral to catch the attention of UNC higher ups who vented their wrath on Willingham and vehemently denied her claims that some student athletes were essentially illiterate and reading at fourth- to eighth-grade levels.

While the news media feasted on the scandal, Willingham was raked over the coals and excoriated for what the university said were false and malicious allegations that academically disadvantaged student-athletes were being allowed to enroll in fake African American courses designed to boost their GPAs and make them eligible to play.

As often happens to whistle-blowers, Willingham was muzzled and forbidden to conduct any further meaningful work. Later, she was forced to submit her resignation.

But as more questions were raised than could be answered, the university engaged former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein to investigate and issue a comprehensive 131-page report on the matter of academic fraud at UNC. The Wainstein report substantiated all that Willingham had been alleging and vindicated her totally of charges that her research was flawed and malicious.

While the scandal reverberates in the halls of academia, the university is facing a possible NCAA investigation and sanctions like those that hit Penn State. The university’s accreditation is in jeopardy as well. There is no question the university needs to apologize to Willingham. The bigger question is whether the university restores Willingham to her former position or gives her reparations in the form of a buy-out.

Walter Mack

Chapel Hill

Common Core would have helped

Mary Carey does not need the UNC scandal to show we are failing our African-American students (DN, bit.ly/1qEmHFa). She’s right; we are.

She uses data to show our African-American boys and girls are reading below grade level. But her solution – incorporating the Orton-Gillingham system in our schools – is not right. That method is great for people who need it: those who can't decode words on a page, struggle to “sound out words” and labor word by word. I’ve used a similar system, Wilson Reading Program, with great results. The thing is, most of our kids can read.

I was a middle school reading specialist for 13 years. My mostly African-American students could read just fine. Really. They just couldn’t understand what they read. Therein lies the problem: comprehension.

We were rolling out the Common Core my last year in the public schools. (I now teach Developmental Reading at Durham Tech.) I believed the Common Core, properly implemented, would have helped our African-American students develop crucial, critical-thinking skills. It asks students from a young age to cite evidence from the text to support answers and ask how it “connects to our own lives.” It fosters close analysis.

Common Core along with preschool so no student starts kindergarten behind are pathways to UNC-CH admission. And perhaps to study science, not basketball.

Sara Johnson

Chapel Hill

Pathetic democracy

It is pathetic to see that the oldest democracy in the world has, perhaps, the lowest voting percentage.

It appears that nearly two-thirds of the eligible voters did not feel it worthwhile to go the polling booth and exercise their fundamental right.

Perhaps compulsory voting should be considered, without affecting the right of free speech.

In India, a new option appears in the voting machine, “None of the Above,” if the voter does not want to vote to any of the candidates. A similar option could be tried here too.

Further , the federal and the state governments could deny some state services like free education, old age pension etc. to citizens who don’t vote.

The U.S. colonies got their independence from Britain on the basis of “No taxation without representation” and the same people are now indifferent to use their right to be represented. Unless some serious steps are taken, democracy as we dream of may be in danger. A government of the people, for the people and by the people may soon become a government for the few, by the few and for the few.

N. V. Parlikad

Chapel Hill


The low number of young people voting this year was no accident, nor was it due to disaffection by many of the young people.

House Bill 589 made changes to the bureaucratic rules regulating voter registration/address changes, which it seems were designed to eliminate them from the rolls of active voters.

No longer are high school students registered actively in high schools by the local boards of elections.

Apparently the DMV has stopped registering them with their new drivers’ licenses, claiming it is too complicated to figure out the birthday as it relates to their first eligible election. Of course this is a straw man since the board of elections managed to seamlessly accomplish this task for years.

And unfortunately forms sent by the bureaucracy generated by DMV license address changes have the effect of eliminating voters from the rolls in their old county without generating an address change and new registration in their new county.

These changes require the voter to fill out additional, unspecified paperwork to stay registered to vote, which is a right not a privilege. Of course all these bureaucratic machinations could be solved if Gov. McCrory would simply endorse the Fourth Circuit’s ruling and allow for same-day registration and out-of-precinct provisional voting. Instead, he stopped the federal court from allowing them this year.

I know this to be true because my daughter and my son-in-law, who are frequent voters, were disenfranchised this past election in Wake County due to the operation of law.

They were transformed from frequent registered voters to unregistered citizens without their knowledge and by the time they became aware of the problem they were ineligible to vote.

This is wrong. This is unAmerican. And this bureaucratic nonsense designed to disenfranchise voters needs to be fixed.

Virginia Penley

Chapel Hill