Luke DeCock

DeCock: For North Carolina, the ugly truth, some real answers and a mea culpa

After four years, two chancellors, two athletic directors, three football coaches and two NCAA investigations (one ongoing and newly fueled with ammunition), finally there are some real answers at North Carolina.

It wasn’t independent investigator Kenneth Wainstein’s presentation of the breadth and depth of the phony classes that really hit home Wednesday, impressive and staggering as it was. It was Chancellor Carol Folt’s apology afterward, a long-awaited, comprehensive institutional mea culpa that acknowledged the “shadow curriculum” that existed for almost two decades on campus and the collective failure to stop it.

“If we don’t fully accept the responsibility, we will not be able to move forward,” Folt said. “So that’s what we’re talking about today.”

Six words: Phony classes to keep athletes eligible.

That’s the dirty truth. There’s no way around it now, no “everyone else is doing it” justification. Not easy classes. Completely phony classes with plagiarized papers graded by a secretary for the express purpose of athletic success.

With the threat of criminal charges from Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall to bring Deborah Crowder and Julius Nyang’oro to the table, Wainstein conducted a thorough and unsparing investigation of the paper classes within the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, laying out the misdeeds in all their ugly glory.

While only a small number of people – Crowder, Nyang’oro, ethics professor Jan Boxill (ethics!) and a handful of academic advisers – were actively complicit, countless others either managed to look the other way or remained conveniently unaware of the nefarious shenanigans despite the obvious evidence.

A few people perpetrated this fraud. So many more enabled and benefited from it. For years and years and years. There’s more than enough blame to go around.

That’s why there’s no minimizing this now, no hanging it on a few bad actors the way former Gov. Jim Martin tried to do in 2012. Despite Martin’s unfounded declaration to the contrary, this is and always was an athletic scandal.

“Was it an academic or athletic issue? Clearly it was an issue in both areas,” Folt said.

During the period academic advisers were steering athletes to those classes to keep them eligible, North Carolina won two national championships in basketball (although only the 2005 team was heavily enrolled in the fake courses) and saw the rise (and fall) of the football program under Butch Davis, who continues to maintain his ignorance despite attending a 2009 presentation to the football coaching staff outlining the purpose and function of the fake classes in the wake of Crowder’s retirement.

None of that is the real shame. It’s the notion that giving unqualified students a fake education was somehow helping them.

“It was an inexcusable betrayal of our values and our mission and our students’ trust,” Folt acknowledged. “The length of time this behavior went on and the number of people involved is really shocking.”

On a day with so much awful news for North Carolina, there was one kernel of good news moving forward.

The NCAA will have its say – as unpredictable as that goliath can be, there’s no telling how long it will take or what conclusions it might reach – but North Carolina has finally said what it needed to say, answered the questions it for so long desperately needed to ask.

It shouldn’t have taken this long to come out, but it finally did, thanks to Woodall and Wainstein. For North Carolina to start to get clean, it had to figure out how dirty it really was. And change.

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