UNC Scandal

UNC faculty wants more input, power over athletes’ academics

UNC History department faculty member Harry Watson, left, makes his views known about finding an alternate to the current Faculty Athletics Committee and their oversight/advisory powers Monday afternoon, November 10, 2014 during a meeting of the Executive Committee of the UNC Faculty at South Hall on the UNC-CH campus. Watson was one of four UNC faculty that signed a letter calling for a new athletics oversight body elected by the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences, which was in the spotlight of the recent Wainstein investigation of academics and athletics at UNC-CH.
UNC History department faculty member Harry Watson, left, makes his views known about finding an alternate to the current Faculty Athletics Committee and their oversight/advisory powers Monday afternoon, November 10, 2014 during a meeting of the Executive Committee of the UNC Faculty at South Hall on the UNC-CH campus. Watson was one of four UNC faculty that signed a letter calling for a new athletics oversight body elected by the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences, which was in the spotlight of the recent Wainstein investigation of academics and athletics at UNC-CH. hlynch@newsobserver.com

UNC-Chapel Hill professors agreed Monday to pursue the idea of writing an ethics code for faculty, while some urged more assertive control of academic decisions regarding athletes.

Since the Wainstein report last month outlined an 18-year scheme of no-show classes that helped maintain athletes’ eligibility, UNC-CH faculty groups have held a series of meetings to sort out how to respond. On Monday, the Faculty Executive Committee, a group of 14 faculty leaders, was asked by four professors to form a new committee over athletics, citing failures of the past Faculty Athletics Committee that didn’t detect the fraudulent classes in African and Afro-American Studies for almost two decades.

Critics have suggested that a new or reconstituted athletics committee should be made up of professors in the College of Arts and Sciences, which is responsible for teaching most undergraduates and student-athletes. The issue has been the subject of letters from current and retired faculty published in the student paper, The Daily Tar Heel. The Faculty Athletics Committee now includes a number of faculty from professional schools who primarily teach graduate students.

Four professors who authored one of the letters arrived at the meeting Monday with a challenge that faculty be a vocal defender of the academic enterprise – and willing to stand up to athletics.

“Things are bad now at this university,” said Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, professor and chairman of the anthropology department. “We are sitting amidst the worst athletic/academic scandal in the history of U.S. collegiate sports and we are ground zero. I feel that if there was ever a time to change, if there was ever a time to bring things in line, now is the time.”

He said the problems revealed in the Wainstein report require concrete steps to regain faculty control and the university’s reputation. Colloredo-Mansfeld said he is sympathetic with the overwhelming demands on athletes and that faculty have for too long “sat out” decisions that have increased pressure on athletes.

‘We are almost there’

The two-hour session was not without disagreement. Joy Renner, chairwoman of the Faculty Athletics Committee, said the panel had been entirely restructured in the past three years. It has taken a rigorous review of athletics, she said, and is squarely focused on dealing with the issue of time demands on student-athletes.

“We are almost there,” she said of the group’s work.

Leslie Parise, chairwoman of biochemistry and biophysics in the School of Medicine, asked Renner: “Does your committee have the power to say no on behalf of the faculty?”

Renner answered yes.

But others asked why, for example, Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham and Michelle Brown, the director of the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes, are advisers to Renner’s committee and attend the meetings. Renner said it is for information and efficiency in faculty getting the facts they need.

“Bubba is an influential guy with a substantial presence,” said Jonathan Weiler, director of global studies. “I think his regular appearance in the room influences the conversations. I think that that’s something that should be considered seriously if we’re thinking about these oversight issues. He’s a powerful person on this campus. He’s one of the highest-paid people on this campus ... and this is nothing against Bubba personally.”

Bruce Cairns, chairman of the faculty, made the point that faculty groups can only advise the chancellor on how to run athletics.

Renner assured the group that the powers that be are listening to faculty voices. “I just have to say this: The time is right that our advice is going to be heard,” she said. “It may not have been heard in the past.”

Several faculty urged a measured response. One member suggested that the athletics department and UNC logo merchandise bring millions in need-based scholarships to students who aren’t athletes. Another made the point that talented musicians, who may get special consideration in admissions, spend lots of time on their art.

‘Beyond ‘Go Heels’ ’

An epidemiologist in UNC-CH’s public health school, James Thomas, presented another idea to the faculty leaders. Thomas developed a code of ethics for people who work in public health. He suggested developing a strong values statement, he said, about what the university is – something that goes “beyond ‘Go Heels.’ ”

“I think a reasonable good start is saying, ‘this is who we are, this is who we want to be,’ ” Thomas said.

The panel liked that idea, and agreed to pursue it.

One thing several faculty stressed was that UNC not let the AFAM “disaster” pass without making significant change.

‘Horrible to me’

Harry Watson, history professor, said the university seems to be stepping back from responsibility since the Wainstein report.

“The response of the administration seems to have been that no further change needs to happen, all the reforms have taken place, so the most important thing that we should all do is make happy talk about Carolina and change the subject,” Watson said. “That just seems horrible to me in the midst of all this.”

Like it or not, Watson said, the scandal does define Carolina in the eyes of the nation and world right now.

“We have broken our trust,” he said. “We can’t just claim that trust back. We have to earn it. And we have to earn it by confronting this, and trying to remedy our shortcomings, and not change the subject.”

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