UNC Scandal

How UNC basketball’s academic aide may be connected to bogus classes

In 2007, when Eric Hoots was a video coordinator for UNC-Chapel Hill’s men’s basketball team, he sent an email to Deborah Crowder, the architect of the bogus “paper” classes that existed for nearly two decades.

In that message, he forwarded “AFAM Papers” to Crowder, who was the office manager for the African and Afro-American Studies department. “Thanks for the help,” he wrote. “I will see you soon...”

Today, Hoots tracks players’ academic progress as the assistant to the athletic director and director of player development for coach Roy Williams; his duties include serving as the program’s in-office academic coordinator. It’s unclear if he knew what Crowder was up to back then. He and UNC officials have declined to say whether the papers he forwarded to Crowder were for classes later found to be bogus.

Critics of how the university has handled the scandal say UNC and Hoots should be more forthcoming.

“It looks bad, and if people see it, given (UNC’s) track record, they are going to assume it’s bad,” said Burley Mitchell, a former state Supreme Court chief justice who served as a member of the UNC system Board of Governors.

A RESPONSE FROM UNC

    Rick White, UNC-Chapel Hill’s associate vice chancellor for communications, wrote this letter to the editor in response to the story about Eric Hoots:

    There’s a practice in journalism: any story with the words “may” or “might” in the headline isn’t really a story. Dan Kane’s story about Eric Hoots (“How UNC basketball’s academic aide may be connected to bogus classes Nov. 1”) fits that rule to a T.

    Some key facts about Hoots’ responsibilities were omitted. Hoots is a liaison with the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes and has no counseling or academic responsibilities – and never has. To be clear, we provided Kane that information but he left it out.

    Kane’s story implies the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a mere formality that we “could” ignore and easily provide him with a student’s academic information. He knows better. We can’t. It’s a federal privacy law to protect the rights of all students.

    Professional newspapers don’t have to resort to innuendo because they have facts to back up what they publish. The News & Observer didn’t. Yet again, Kane was allowed to write his own narrative instead of reporting the facts. The final word on this story should be Kane’s apology to Eric Hoots.

A second email involving Hoots has the same subject. It lists two attachments, described as “summerpaper1.doc; summerpaper2.doc.” UNC redacted the sender’s name and the date of the email, which suggests the sender is a student.

“Hey Eric,” the sender wrote. “You dont (sic) realize how much I owe you for this. I’m gonna be the one that pays for lunch from here on out or something. And I just put those papers as an attachment.”

The emails turned up in the hundreds of thousands of pages of university records made public that had been previously shared with former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein for his probe into the fake classes. He found that Crowder started the scheme in 1993, first with bogus independent studies before disguising them as lecture-style classes in 1999.

The classes had no professor. Crowder, who was not a faculty member and lacked a master’s degree, enrolled students, handed out the paper assignments and gave high grades to anyone who turned in a paper. Athletes made up half of the 3,100 students who enrolled in the classes, a far larger proportion than their share of the student body.

The men’s basketball team was heavily enrolled in the classes until a few years into Williams’ tenure. Williams told Wainstein he did not know the classes were bogus, but he was uncomfortable with so many of his athletes majoring in African studies and taking independent studies.

Records show his players continued to take the bogus classes until Crowder retired in 2009, but at reduced numbers.

Disappearing degree

Hoots, 35, is a 2004 UNC graduate from Newton who worked as a student manager for the basketball team for three years. He joined Williams’ staff as a video assistant after graduating and became the video coordinator for several years. He had an additional link to the African studies program: It was one of his undergraduate majors.

While he was a video coordinator, Hoots’ UNC biography reported his bachelor’s degrees in African studies and communications. That changed in 2013, when Williams added the academic coordinator role to Hoots’ responsibilities. The African studies degree disappeared from his bio in subsequent team media guides, which list his degree in communications.

UNC spokesman Rick White said in an email that Hoots dropped mention of the African studies degree out of “personal preference.” By then, it was clear the bogus classes stretched back into the 1990s.

It is not clear whether Hoots took any of the bogus classes as a student, or if he played a role as a staffer in helping students take them. Hoots and UNC officials have declined to answer questions about his connections to the African studies department, or to release relevant records such as the papers that had been attached to the emails.

White has cited the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as FERPA, that keeps many educational records secret.

The federal law would shield the classes that Hoots took, though he could make them public. But it would not prevent the release of information identifying the classes connected to the emails, or for UNC to say whether the attached papers were tied to bogus classes.

“They could certainly describe the nature of those email attachments without coming anywhere near a FERPA violation,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit that provides legal advice to college and high school journalists.

Many such emails were made public – with students’ identifying information redacted – in Wainstein’s report on the class scheme. That investigation, completed and released more than two years ago, prompted an NCAA probe that has produced allegations of serious violations involving failure to monitor the academic problems and lack of institutional control. UNC is fighting those allegations.

“It would obviously be a problem if the UNC basketball program’s academic coordinator was involved in the paper classes scheme,” said John Shelton Reed, a retired sociology professor at UNC best known for his research into Southern culture. “I’m surprised that the athletic department isn’t downright eager to answer questions and clear things up.”

The N&O requested that UNC system President Margaret Spellings become involved in making the information public. She declined, a spokeswoman said.

Not an issue

Hoots was not interviewed in his role as a staff member by Wainstein or the other lawyers on his team who investigated the bogus classes. His name does not surface in the report, or in any of the hundreds of documents included as exhibits. He also has not surfaced in records made public in the NCAA’s investigation into the classes.

Joseph Jay, the lead attorney on Wainstein’s team, said UNC officials wouldn’t let the firm comment about Hoots.

A goheels.com profile from 2014 shows Hoots wearing many hats. That job includes his video coordinator duties as well as helping with recruiting and keeping up with former players. He also manages the team’s budget and equipment needs. Hoots is paid $100,000 a year, UNC officials said.

UNC’s Faculty Athletics Committee has an oversight role on academics and athletics. Chairwoman Layna Mosley, a political science professor, said in an email that she doubted she would have anything more to say beyond the information UNC officials have provided. Andrew Perrin, a committee member and sociology professor, said in an interview he didn’t see the need to inquire about the emails involving Hoots and AFAM papers.

“It’s not particularly interesting or important to me, so, no,” Perrin said. He noted the numerous reforms that have been put in place to track classes, and said what is important is making sure the “paper” class scheme isn’t happening now or in the future.

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