During the past month, an online petition started by a UNC-Chapel Hill chemistry professor seeking to move the university past the academic and athletic scandal has drawn more than 110 signers, including former Chancellor James Moeser.
“It is time to move forward from this unfortunate episode,” the petition reads. “The challenges of the future demand our full attention. We must come together to address these challenges and to continue providing all of our valued students the inclusive, diverse, and vibrant environment for inspired learning they expect in Chapel Hill.”
The chemistry professor, Cindy Schauer, declined interview requests to talk about the petition. She has worked at UNC since 1988 and has been an associate professor for nearly 21 years.
Her petition said UNC has not received proper credit for introducing numerous reforms to prevent a future scandal. They include strict limits on independent studies, higher academic admission standards for athletes and the end of any athletic department ties to the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes.
The petition also criticized the media for focusing on the scandal and not the university’s efforts to investigate it and correct what had gone wrong.
Moeser, who was chancellor when the number of fake classes reached its peak in the mid 2000s, confirmed he and his wife signed the petition, calling it “a statement of support” for the way the university has handled the scandal.
Chancellor Carol Folt said in a statement: “I am grateful for their letter of support, as it reflects the hard work of many people across this campus.”
John Shelton Reed, a professor emeritus of sociology at UNC, said the petition is misguided. He was among more than 30 retired faculty who signed a letter a year ago pressing the faculty to demand more answers about the scandal from the administration.
“It’s all very well for UNC people to say it’s time to move on, but that decision is no longer ours to make,” Reed said. “By mishandling this business so badly – by not admitting anything until it was dragged out of us – we’ve lost our credibility. Given our record, there’s no reason anyone should believe us when we say that everything is known, justice has been done, and the future is taken care of.”
The petition also makes reference to “those in our community who seek out the media spotlight to rehash old issues as if they are ongoing problems.”
Jay Smith, a history professor and early critic of the administration’s handling of the scandal, said that language appeared to be a shot at him and whistleblower Mary Willingham, who co-authored “Cheated,” a book about the scandal, which was published last month. It has drawn national media attention.
He and Willingham disputed that the reforms would fix the underlying problem behind the scandal – the need for unpaid, academically-suspect athletes to play football and men’s basketball.
Smith and Willingham suggested that academic fraud and substandard classes would be quickly outed if the grades, classes and professors were made public for athletes in revenue sports, whose names would not be disclosed. UNC has contended such information would result in the identification of some athletes.
Moeser said that the problems inherent in college sports that helped foster the scandal can’t be solved by UNC alone.
“That’s where you’d like to see some leadership at a national level,” he said. “A consortium of college presidents would have to do this.”