The Kids At Duke Are Going To Love This
October 22, 2014 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Over a period of 18 years, 3100 students at The University of North Carolina were afforded the opportunity to pad their GPA by taking classes that had no actual requirements, and never even met. Over 1/2 the students were athletes, who without the help presumably would not have stayed eligible to compete make money for the University.
posted by COD (66 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
One solution would be to take away the institution's academic accreditation and sports affiliations for a few years, with current students grandfathered in.

Doesn't seem right to allow a school to give degrees or participate in sports if they aren't playing fair. Penalties need to be harsh.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 4:06 PM on October 22, 2014 [25 favorites]


Fuck, the right is going to have a field day with this. "See, look how useless that African-American studies department is, look how corrupt. This is why we need to cut all those extra humanities courses and replace them all with more STEM."

They won't focus at all on why we fail these student athletes so badly that departments feel pressured to run these courses, or on what the role of athletics should be at a university. It's gonna jump straight to lolculturalstudies.

Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck,
posted by ActionPopulated at 4:07 PM on October 22, 2014 [25 favorites]


Fraudulent student credits in footballtown? who ever could have predicted
posted by poffin boffin at 4:11 PM on October 22, 2014 [11 favorites]


Really, the surprising thing to me is that over half of the students involved weren't athletes.
posted by ckape at 4:14 PM on October 22, 2014 [49 favorites]


I love any mention of the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft, just because I like living in a world which is occasionally a Dickens novel.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:20 PM on October 22, 2014 [39 favorites]


I don't think the article states that Folt became Chancellor after the scandal came to light, but I think people should know that.

Fuck, the right is going to have a field day with this. "See, look how useless that African-American studies department is, look how corrupt. This is why we need to cut all those extra humanities courses and replace them all with more STEM."

The NC Governor has a history of doing exactly this kind of thing, so yes, it is a concern.
posted by thelonius at 4:22 PM on October 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


Fraudulent student credits in footballtown? who ever could have predicted


Really, basketballtown that was attempting to make itself footballtown as well, because $$$.

I was at UNC during the tail end of this; the going rumor around campus was that the basketball students all took Swahili for their language credit. I also knew someone who TA'd an intro music theory course (it counted as a "mathematical reasoning" credit or something like that), and remember her just having no idea how the (female) basketball player in her course was going to pass- part of the final exam involved doing a short composition, and the girl couldn't even write out a scale.

It's gonna jump straight to lolculturalstudies.

I just feel bad for all of the other students at UNC who might have legitimately wanted to get some sort of degree in Afro Studies. I took some wonderful (and challenging!) African-American centered courses in the English and Linguistics departments; it makes me sad to think that the courses in the actual Afro/African American studies department apparently weren't up to par.
posted by damayanti at 4:25 PM on October 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


the courses in the actual Afro/African American studies department apparently weren't up to par

The investigation has shown that this scam was being run by only two people in that department, one of whom was the chair. This was not typical of the courses or faculty there; although, of course, the department's reputation is badly damaged now. How can it not be? I'd be so furious if I were faculty or a student studying in it.
posted by thelonius at 4:29 PM on October 22, 2014 [11 favorites]


Yeah, it sucks especially because the lady they're blaming for this, who was basically a secretary, cited as her motive wanting to help clearly unprepared student-athletes stay in school.

The school's reaction is laughably non-credible, though. As in, I laughed. A lot. UNC: How could we possibly have known student athletes were taking non-existent courses?!?! Football coaches: /literally watched a PowerPoint presentation that said, "Student-athletes are taking non-existent courses."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:30 PM on October 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


a reason the paper class scheme thrived for so long was that it was hard for anyone to imagine that something so beyond the pale could happen at all.

“It was such a shock that it was hard for people to fathom,” she said.


While I don't want to generalize, because there is a diversity of motivation in any sports team, it's something of stereotype that student athletes in very competitive programs take less demanding course loads, and even degrees, and that there's usually at least tacit complicity with the school administration, if nothing more than guiding the students toward easier loads. So maybe it's not really all that unimaginable? Is this really the only documented case of this happening?
posted by johnnydummkopf at 4:32 PM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


she had been motivated by a desire to help struggling athletes.

How do you get it in your head that "helping" means helping them do an end-run around the actual requirements of the program? If you don't believe in the student part of "student-athlete" (the whole system seems to be a sham, so that's at least a consistent position), just come out and say so.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:33 PM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is this really the only documented case of this happening?

No, off the top of my head, Florida or Florida State got in trouble because a supposedly "rogue" tutor filled in exams for a laughably easy anyway music appreciation class that it was impossible to fail; Stanford had a list of "friendly" classes for athletes; and Georgia basically ran an English professor out of town on a rail for publicizing the fact that she was required to give illiterate student-athletes passing grades.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:39 PM on October 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


How do you get it in your head that "helping" means helping them do an end-run around the actual requirements of the program?

Not wanting them to lose their scholarship, which includes food and housing? Not wanting to torpedo their chance at success in the thing they are actually good at because they're incompetent in an entirely separate thing? Correctly thinking that everyone around you agrees that the exact actions you are taking are right and in fact helpful?
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:43 PM on October 22, 2014 [16 favorites]


...and Georgia basically ran an English professor out of town on a rail...
Circa 1986.

I was deeply, deeply gratified to read what Ms. Kemp then did with said rail.

Thank you for mentioning it, Snarl.
posted by The Confessor at 4:50 PM on October 22, 2014 [8 favorites]


Surely someone thought something was up when all these students had classes with Professor Professorson?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:57 PM on October 22, 2014 [21 favorites]


I'm amazed that the whole charade of "student" athletes has lasted even this long. The whole thing is just such total B.S. and has been forever.

Just hire these kids right out of high school to play for your college and be done with it. And if they want to take classes at a discount or for free, that's good too.
posted by freakazoid at 5:07 PM on October 22, 2014 [19 favorites]


Forget Duke; there has to be a certain amount of hubris going on in Raleigh tonight. We knew they were getting away with something all these years. ;)

In all seriousness, though, this sucks, and I can't find it in myself to gloat. Even if it is Carolina.

I'm amazed that the whole charade of "student" athletes has lasted even this long. The whole thing is just such total B.S. and has been forever.


So... once upon a life, I worked at the athletic tutoring center at my school, and I was blown away by how hard most of the students I worked with worked (I will admit to having carried around a few stereotypes about athletes, myself). Golf players, wrestlers, competitive shooters, tennis players, softball players, most women's basketball players, most of the runners... they were under no illusion that they were going to do anything athletic competitively after college, and they busted their asses in classes, and in practice schedules that put my classes-and-two-jobs routine to shame. And often had financial aid packages that didn't cover everything. I certainly can't say it's like that at every school (obviously or we wouldn't be having this discussion) but they were pretty awesome, as are most of the student-athletes in my classes now.
posted by joycehealy at 5:15 PM on October 22, 2014 [30 favorites]


who were the 50%+ non-athlete students in these classes? why/how were they there?
posted by Bwithh at 5:54 PM on October 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


Really, the surprising thing to me is that over half of the students involved weren't athletes.

No kidding. I'm entirely unsurprised that the athletes were taking fake classes, but that more than a thousand other people got to take fake classes really surprises me.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:55 PM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


"The Kids At Duke Are Going To Love This"

It's true, I do, and I didn't even LIKE going to Duke.

No, but seriously, it's shocking and shameful. UNC is a great university -- the very first public university in the United States, chartered in 1789 and enrolling students in 1795 -- and while recent North Carolinian (Carolingian? Please?) governments have slashed education budgets (K through U) with glee, it is a flagship state university with an important legacy as one of the first public universities* in the entire world, an idea and an ideal that should be celebrated. To tarnish that history, and the present reputation of UNC as a flagship state U with a highly competitive student body, isn't just a "haha sports are more important than education or students!" but a giant middle finger at the entire idea of public university education.

*Fun Fact: the University of Naples Federico II, the very first public university, was founded in 1225 but COME ON that's only like 570 years ahead of UNC.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:56 PM on October 22, 2014 [26 favorites]


Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning, Ms. Folt, the U.N.C., Chapel Hill, chancellor, said that a reason the paper class scheme thrived for so long was that it was hard for anyone to imagine that something so beyond the pale could happen at all.

“It was such a shock that it was hard for people to fathom,” she said.


I think a big part of the shock is that it's so easy to create a wholly technically legitimate and valid class that actually has a proper syllabus, is very easy and requires just a bit of regular effort...
posted by Bwithh at 5:58 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


How is this (type of thing) not common knowledge? I was friends with a lineman (odd pair, we were) in undergrad at *Big Twelve School*. Lots of stories like this. The only one that made me jealous of his privilege was his ability to just phone an assistant coach and have a test pushed back by a week.
posted by j_curiouser at 6:08 PM on October 22, 2014


I took a course with Nyang'oro in Fall 1998. The students in the class were mostly football players, and the only grade in the course was a single 20-page paper.

I remember thinking I was going to fail that course and I ended up with an A.

Nyang'oro actually held lectures, though - I remember him being a particularly good lecturer.
posted by casconed at 6:09 PM on October 22, 2014 [9 favorites]


I'm wondering who was the instructor of record for these courses. Sure, the final papers were all "graded" by one non-academic after a cursory look, but someone must have been building their FTE on the enrollment.

Pretty terrible that it went on for so long, but I was expecting there to be literally no requirement for passing the course. The fact that there was a paper to be turned in at all makes me wonder if it started out like a regular class (that, you know, met from time to time) but then became like this? I would guess we all had classes in college where we were let out early, sometimes often, sometimes "not really meeting on Fridays this term", or whatever. That's the kind of thing I find so shameful, so embarrassing for a college, when lots of people see it and are ok with it. That stuff will go on as long as students like it and the instructor holds to some kind of minimum of assessment, but I'm always taken aback by how low that minimum can be. I think the North Carolina thing is just one example whose spirit lives on in many forms around our institutions of higher ed.

This makes me think - I remember being pressured as a grad student by a department chair to change a student athlete's grade so they could continue competing. I wouldn't change the grade, but saw later that it had been changed to passing. I didn't make a fuss about it because it wasn't my fight to have, and I did (or didn't do) what I had to.
posted by klausman at 6:17 PM on October 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


UNC is a great university -- the very first public university in the United States, chartered in 1789

Excuse you.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:30 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


My wife tutored a basketball player in college. At least at my Big 10 Alma Mater, they were taking the student part of student-athlete relatively seriously in the mid 80s. She has many stories of him pointing out the athletic staff members that wandered through the library to make sure he really was there with a tutor when he was skipping mandatory study tables to work with her.

Granted, very few athletes were engineering majors, but they were at least expected to do what everybody else in their majors and classes did to earn a grade.

As far as I can tell, it's still that way there. It shows in our recent football results ;(
posted by COD at 6:30 PM on October 22, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm wondering who was the instructor of record for these courses.

It was Nyang'oro
posted by thelonius at 6:31 PM on October 22, 2014


William & Mary in VA thinks the the UNC and UGA folks are cute. Deluded, but cute.

On February 8, 1693, King William III and Queen Mary II of England signed the charter for a “perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and other good Arts and Sciences” to be founded in the Virginia Colony. And William & Mary was born.

Workers began construction on the Sir Christopher Wren Building, then known simply as the College Building in 1695, before the town of Williamsburg even existed. Over the next two centuries, the Wren Building would burn on three separate occasions, each time being re-built inside the original walls. That makes the Wren the oldest college building in America, and possibly the most flammable.

posted by COD at 6:33 PM on October 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


Is this really the only documented case of this happening?

We had a similar, but less drastic and lower profile, flapdoodle about something very similar at the university I work at, probably about 8 years ago? Students, many athletes, signing up for piles of independent study units with a few faculty, that involved no work and (I think) generated letter grades.

We're now required to have all the students turn in a plan for their independent study and sign a contract of the work they'll do. I doubt it would stop anyone who really wanted to pull this scam but there's more of a sense that the administration is keeping an eye on the sitch.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:34 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


*this is my surprised face*

From first hand experience I can say this happens/happened at, at least, one other school as well. I firmly believe it happens in many, many others and it's just a matter of who gets caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

The first step towards anything related to fixing college athletics and making it less of a meatgrinder and screwy situation for nearly everyone involved, be it fans or non-athletic students or most importantly the athletes, is to actually teach the athletes, who also happen to be students (or so we're led to believe), and hold schools accountable when they don't. If that can't happen then I don't think schools should be affiliated with teams anymore, it just doesn't compute. Spin them off into minor league programs or feeder teams for the pros because that's what they really are.

It's a shame the way things are operating now and, probably because I'm about halfway through it, it reminds me of a quote from Theodore Roosevelt An Autobiography regarding Teddy's battle enacting reform and controls with his 'big stick' on the industries that were rife with corruption, just replace railway and beef with college and athletic and it pretty much fits:

There was a curious result of this law, similar to what occurred in connection with the law providing for effective railway regulation. The big beef men bitterly opposed the law; just as the big railway men opposed the Hepburn Act. Yet three or four years after these laws had been put on the statute books every honest man both in the beef business and the railway business came to the conclusion that they worked good and not harm to the decent business concerns. They hurt only those who were not acting as they should have acted.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:10 PM on October 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


UNC was the only US public university to award degrees in the 18th century so suck it UGA and W&M (which wasn't even public when founded).

joycehealy: "So... once upon a life, I worked at the athletic tutoring center at my school, and I was blown away by how hard most of the students I worked with worked [...]. Golf players, wrestlers, competitive shooters, tennis players, softball players, most women's basketball players, most of the runners... they were under no illusion that they were going to do anything athletic competitively after college, and they busted their asses in classes, and in practice schedules that put my classes-and-two-jobs routine to shame. "
j_curiouser: "How is this (type of thing) not common knowledge? I was friends with a lineman (odd pair, we were) in undergrad at *Big Twelve School*. Lots of stories like this. "

I was at Notre Dame and had some football players in my extremely competitive major. Some were position player like kickers, but others were linemen, and they all worked SO. HARD. And they had to struggle against anti-sports prejudice (the profs were definitely not fans) as well as keeping up in very difficult classes while missing classes for out-of-state games. They were often bottom-third-of-the-class but they were doing the work and participating in class and it wasn't the sort of thing you could bullshit or have others do for you. And, really, if you get in with a slightly lower SAT score and slightly lower high school GPAs than the "average" student and you go into the same classes and are gamely competitive, GOOD FOR YOU for keeping up and passing in the bottom third of the class while holding down a full-time sporting job!

Not that I don't think there's some serious bullshit out there. There is. A lot of it. Really bad. But some of these guys are not thinkers, and they are working INCREDIBLY HARD to keep up with very, very smart people at flagship schools and also hold down full-time sports jobs, and they are DOING IT. And it's a shame that this kind of cheating denigrates their achievements, especially those guys who are sports guys and not brain guys and who WORK THEMSELVES TO THE BONE to pass academic classes.

(But yeah, the non-football players were just straight-up competitive with "regular" students, on scholarship or not, and they worked their asses off to keep up during the season.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:24 PM on October 22, 2014 [22 favorites]


Trust me, UNC is not the only one.

Not by a long shot.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:46 PM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have a graduate degree from Carolina, and accidentally answered the phone during their call-every-night fundraising period last month. They wanted me to donate big bucks for them to use at their own discretion, without telling me what it'd be used for. They didn't want to send me anything in writing about what the money would be used for, until I promised them some cash. I barely resisted asking if they were going to use the money to educate ALL the students since it was a student worker who was calling and it wouldn't be fair to unload on him, but I was peeved, and it's been bothering me more and more since I'm pretty sure that money'd go to shuffling the blame onto the staff member (who was super-culpable, right down to signing professor names when getting grades changed), the department chair, and away from the administration, ol' Roy, and other culpable parties.

One of my jobs while I was there was in a professional school that had an undergraduate major that was popular with quite a few athletes. The day two of the junior basketball players/majors (Future NBAers) were spotted in the building was a thrill for the staff.... because they had never seen them in the building before.
posted by julen at 7:49 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


You can't spell "Dunce" without UNC.

(I kid. Sort of.)
posted by 4ster at 7:51 PM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Ashamed of my alma mater. Having said that, the varsity basketball players I was in the weed-out Comm Studies classes with worked hard and learned, and were very aware that they needed a career after their playing years were over.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:12 PM on October 22, 2014


Fascinated by Ms. Crowder's role in this. She creates this scheme, runs it for years right under everyone's noses, and takes the whole thing with her when she retires. That's it. Nobody else takes over even though a lot of people consider it "important", it just stops. How did she do it? I can't so much as cross a T at work without 5 academic buerocrats on my case; how did she have enough freedom and power to pull this off?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:34 PM on October 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


One solution would be to take away the institution's academic accreditation

Well, this would be up to the regional accrediting body, and it looks like the school's next review for accreditation is in 2016. I'd hate to be serving on the committee that is undoubtedly planning for a site visit right now. It takes a couple of years to get everything together.

Their regional accrediting body (Southern Association of Schools and Colleges) has this to say in their principles of accreditation:
Integrity, essential to the purpose of higher education, functions as the basic contract defining the relationship between the Commission and each of its member and candidate institutions. It is a relationship in which all parties agree to deal honestly and openly with their constituencies and with one another. Without this commitment, no relationship can exist or be sustained between the Commission and its accredited and candidate institutions (p. 12).
Also, under the comprehensive standards for all academic programs:
The institution ... ensures that course work and learning outcomes are at the collegiate level and comparable to the institution's own degree programs. The institution assumes responsibility for the academic quality of any course work or cred recorded on the institution's transcript (p. 28).
Under federal requirements:
The institution has policies and procedures for determining the credit hours awarded for courses and programs that conform to commonly accepted practices in higher education and to Commission policy (p. 40).
There is some notation or sanction certainly in their future, and there should be concern about failing to meet the federal expectations in guarding the gate to keep this from happening in the first place. I'm not entirely sure what the consequence would be.

This page lists schools that have recently received sanctions for various reasons under this accrediting body, and one of them includes Louisianna College, which was dinged for a number of issues, including Integrity. They were placed on probation (which is the most serious sanction, apparently, apart from loss of membership), which can be up to two years. I'm going to guess that UNC is going to be put on probation for anywhere between a year and two years.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:52 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


According to U.N.C.’s website, Ms. Boxill is currently the director of the university’s Parr Center for Ethics and was recently named the 2015 Warren Fraleigh distinguished scholar by the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport.

This is my favourite bit. Of course, one of the people involved is running the ethics center.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:08 PM on October 22, 2014 [8 favorites]


So, seriously, what was with the other 57% of people taking the classes? Was it just that word-of-mouth spread from athletes, and nobody in the registrar's office wanted to turn down a student wanting to take the class because they were worried the student might blow the whistle on them, or what?
posted by Bugbread at 10:10 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


So, seriously, what was with the other 57% of people taking the classes?

Legacy students, maybe? I don't know, I never had a blowoff class at UNC. Even the bowling PE requirement held in the basement of the student union was strictly policed by PE majors and grad students.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:14 PM on October 22, 2014


glad to see other schools learning from the Greendale Night School model
posted by NoraReed at 10:56 PM on October 22, 2014


On February 8, 1693, King William III and Queen Mary II of England signed the charter for a “perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and other good Arts and Sciences” to be founded in the Virginia Colony. And William & Mary was born.

That's impressive! Harvard was only 57 years old then.
posted by msalt at 11:17 PM on October 22, 2014 [6 favorites]


The fact that this IS a scandal shows that it's less common then cynics might think, though I think it's fair to say that every college has "easy As" or easy Bs or guts or whatever you call them for every student, not just athletes.

The NFL coach I write most about -- Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles -- makes it a point to draft smart, versatile players and, independently, college graduates.

It turns out that many pro-caliber football players don't quite graduate, or come back to it after their NFL careers (average length 3 years) end. Kelly, who graduated 6 years after his playing career at UNH ended, has said that he values the minority who graduate on time (or in some cases, early, despite spending 40+ hours a week on football) because it shows that they complete tasks efficiently.

Kelly has made a point of filling his team with players like Stanford's Zach Ertz, OSU's Malcolm Jenkins and WVU's Najee Goode, who majored in industrial engineering. I interview these guys and it's frankly a joy because they are almost all sharp and articulate.
posted by msalt at 11:35 PM on October 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


That's impressive! Harvard was only 57 years old then.

And Oxford had been teaching students for 597 years... (there wasn't a royal charter until 1248, but that seems to have been a formal acknowledgement of a situation that had existed for about half a century.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:13 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sure, but they're in the OLD WORLD, so of course.
posted by msalt at 12:31 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


feckless fecal fear mongering: "And Oxford had been teaching students for 597 years..."

So we've established, then, that Oxford, not the University of North Carolina, the University of Georgia, William & Mary, or Harvard, was in fact the first public university in the United States?
posted by Bugbread at 1:00 AM on October 23, 2014 [17 favorites]


Yes. Clearly.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:14 AM on October 23, 2014


You all know that this didn't just break, right? This story is out today because another investigation, ordered by the new Chancellor, and headed by a former Federal prosecutor, released its findings. Southern Association of Schools and Colleges concluded their investigation about 2 years ago, and UNC is not losing its accreditation; they are satisfied with the measures that the school is taking. There has been a criminal investigation as well.
posted by thelonius at 3:03 AM on October 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


The fact that this IS a scandal shows that it's less common then cynics might think, though I think it's fair to say that every college has "easy As" or easy Bs or guts or whatever you call them for every student, not just athletes.

I think the extremes to which some people at UNC went are extraordinary, but the "student athlete" is a pretty big problem almost anywhere that has a high-end NCAA program. The athletics commitment invariably spills over any supposed limits on training/workout hours, whether by direct demands from coaches and administrators or simply by means of unspoken but very concrete expectations.

And so somewhere a compensatory mechanism will arise to maintain athletes' eligibility despite their having less study time and less classroom presence. It might be more lenient grading, it might mean turning a blind eye when someone writes half the quarterback's paper for him because he hasn't got the time or hasn't had the prep that his classmates have, or it might mean pushing athletes towards "blow-off" classes. But it will happen, if only because you have to stay competitive on the field with the other schools where it's happening.

UNC's mistake was dispensing entirely with the usual NCAA-approved fig leaves and deciding that their fictitious classes didn't even need to make a pretense of meeting and grading.
posted by kewb at 3:26 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ah, my alma mater: continuously reinforcing my lack of nostalgia or regard for modern university education.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:32 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


klausman: "I'm wondering who was the instructor of record for these courses. Sure, the final papers were all "graded" by one non-academic after a cursory look, but someone must have been building their FTE on the enrollment. "

Yeah, it was Nyang'oro, and it should have made the Administration look more closely at the whole situation, but it was barely touched upon. From an excellent selection of quotes from the report by the Raleigh News & Observer:
The only other questions about the AFAM classes were raised by Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Roberta ‘Bobbi’ Owen. In 2005 or 2006, Dean Owen had lunch with Nyang’oro and complained to him about the extremely high number of independent studies he was handling (sometimes more than 300 per academic year). She directed him to reduce that number and to ‘get [Crowder] under control,’ suggesting that Crowder was somehow behind the high numbers of independent studies in the AFAM Department. When Nyang’oro returned from lunch that day, he told Crowder that Owen was watching the independent studies enrollments and instructed her to scale them back. Crowder did as instructed, and the number of independent studies enrollments immediately went down. Owen noticed the decline in enrollments, and in November 2006 she sent Nyang’oro an email entitled ‘Ind Studies,’ noting that ‘it has gotten quieter from your side of campus,’ and conveying her thanks. … She never asked what sort of instruction Nyang’oro was actually providing to those hundreds of independent studies students registered under his name each year. … [B]y failing to follow up on her lunch-time admonition to Nyang’oro beyond her single email, Dean Owen missed the chance to put an end to these paper classes five years before their eventual discovery in 2011.
Bugbread: "So, seriously, what was with the other 57% of people taking the classes? Was it just that word-of-mouth spread from athletes, and nobody in the registrar's office wanted to turn down a student wanting to take the class because they were worried the student might blow the whistle on them, or what?"
In addition to those lecture-designated paper classes, the AFAM Department also developed a hybrid model that we call the ‘bifurcated classes.’ the bifurcated classes were lecture classes in which some of the enrolled students were expected to attend regular lectures and complete all assignments like any other lecture course, while others were exempted from those standard class requirements and were allowed to complete the class by simply turning in a paper, pursuant to the typical paper class process. We found that some students were selected for paper-class treatment because they were considered behavior problems in the classroom, while other were selected simply because they were student-athletes.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:22 AM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Disclosure: Jan Boxill is a friend of a friend, and married to an excellent philosopher of race I very much admire.

So, is it too facile to say that the whole system (of Div I athletics) is broken?

Look at what's been going on in K-12 education, esp. in NC, for the past 10 years, and it's no surprise that students come to University under-prepared. Then we tell them that to stay in school/play ball, they have to stay in school (full time) and PLAY BALL so that they are doing two more-than-full-time jobs at once.

I'm not surprised it takes the kindness of strangers and deep cognitive dissonance to make such a system work -- I'm at a Div III school and I've seen just how much gets hidden under an "Academics first" mantra... nothing reportable, just everyone's too tired to make a big deal over away games and mid-afternoon practices.

I would guess what distinguishes UNC from other Div I schools is just how explicit the
"accommodations" for athletes had become. There's a kind of honesty there; at most schools, the whole process is more "organic" and less documentable, but similar kinds of "learning" happen.

So, call me a bleeding heart, but the Big Wrong I see is in the exploitative nature of the enterprise; folks like the AFAM dept. no doubt saw themselves as trying to lessen the cost to student workers/players of that enterprise. But instead of changing the whole enterprise, SACS and the nation will focus on the wrongdoings of the AFAM folk.

Or so I expect.
posted by allthinky at 5:55 AM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Disclosure: Jan Boxill is also a friend of a friend. That her name even came up at all is a bit of a shocker, and is perhaps the most disappointing revelation to me personally. I attended grad school at UNC, and worked there for over six years. Allthinky, I completely agree that Div I athletics is broken. I would go further and say the entire NCAA, ACC, aka GiantMegaBucks college athletics systems is broken, and perhaps you've intimated you feel the same way.

I am, however, also saddened by the way this kind of controversy shrouds deeper problems facing UNC-CH (and likely most other colleges and universities), not the least of which is a state legislature that seems intent on dismantling the school cent by cent, and a culture of contempt for the non-faculty staff. But I don't want to derail the thread, so I'll end on that.
posted by malaprohibita at 6:45 AM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think that if you look closely at the academic credentials and requirements for students with a special talent going to a university that needs that talent, you'll find a spectrum of exemptions, allowances and adjustments, not all of which are advertised too widely. In the US, it's sports. In some of the older UK establishments, it's choral scholars.

None of this is necessarily immoral or fraudulent, but it is most certainly image management.
posted by Devonian at 7:08 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Malaprohibita, absolutely. And not just that school is being dismantled, but education in general, and the whole thing perpetuates itself.

Maybe, maybe, the pendulum has begun to swing back the other way, but a lot of low-level malfeasors will get rolled over in the meantime.
posted by allthinky at 7:21 AM on October 23, 2014


I more or less minored in African American Studies as an undergraduate, and my classes were 80% student athletes. I also later TAed a class that was in the 'student athlete' curriculum. The professors were always well aware of who their audience was and would tailor the work towards them. Not, however, in a way that would make it easier. In my history classes, in particular, I had an amazing professor who held the students to a high disciplinary standard--no chatting or fooling around in class--and continually reinforced the idea that they were supposed to be student leaders. He would draw correlations between different elements in African American history and the state of student athletics today. He's now a director of something and no longer a professor, which is a step up for him but makes me a little sad because he no longer teaches.

The class I TAed always got negative feedback for being too difficult but the students continued to take it because it was 100% web-based which is great if you have to travel out of town every week. It seems like the opportunity was there for the athletes to have tutors do their homework, but based on the often personal nature of the papers I graded, I don't think that was actually the case.

These experiences were at two different big football colleges in the South. Despite the constant temptation to make things easier for these athletes, there are many out there who have the opposite reaction.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:58 AM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I hope they argue that free grades are a necessary accommodation for the athletes due to the brain damage they suffer from playing football.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:36 AM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


tofu_crouton: "Despite the constant temptation to make things easier for these athletes, there are many out there who have the opposite reaction."

Absolutely, and I'm sure that there are professors and staff members at Chapel Hill like that. I'm also sure that there are Nyang'oros and Crowders at the institution you were at. I don't think anyone who has paid very much attention to college athletics over the past 20 or 30 years thinks there are any institutions that are free of wrongdoing. Heck, it was pretty much an open secret that the college that athletically dominated the Division III (!) conference that my undergraduate institution was a member of did so because they looked the other way when it came to minimum academic admissions standards for athletes.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:16 AM on October 23, 2014


I'm honestly just waiting for some pissed-off non-athlete student to sue a university demanding that they, and all other students, have access to all the benefits accorded to the athletes. Personally, I would have loved to have an entire paid staff with the job assignment of making sure I got whatever help I needed to do well in every class, buy my books for me, register and do all the paperwork for me, et cetera.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:24 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


The NCAA puts so much pressure on universities to supervise every aspect of athlete's lives, with increasing surveillance of athletes every year. They prompt schools to monitor twitter accounts, track spending, etc. You would think peeking a head into classrooms every now and then would be a good idea, but they can't quantify that on a report. And if it can't be written on a report, they can't deal with the aggregate information from schools as easily. So recruiting becomes easy to monitor--who ate what where and with whom?--and it's easy to see the amount of time students are enrolled in courses, but what's happening in those courses is harder to track. Plus that would involve stepping on the toes of often prestigious faculty, so actual academic quality might be the last area that they investigate.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:10 AM on October 23, 2014


I think we should scrap our colleges altogether. Replace the classrooms with additional training facilities for athletes and fire all of the professors. This charade has gone on long enough. The only thing that matters in life is winning.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:57 PM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


I completely agree that Div I athletics is broken. I would go further and say the entire NCAA, ACC, aka GiantMegaBucks college athletics systems is broken, and perhaps you've intimated you feel the same way.

The colleges are broken. The idea of actual compliance with law, regulation and policy is just that. AN IDEA.

From the Board of Trustees, The President, every VP and Chair, everyone is ignorant of their duties and responsibilities. Ready to either pretend ignorance or cover it up rather then doing what's right.

Full disclosure. This is a topic close to me, since I was fired from Hudson Valley Community College by their Information Security Officer ( legally responsible for college compliance with the Information Security Policy ) when my request for minimal resources *for my own required compliance* revealed her prior official misconduct and I wouldn't join in the criminal acts covering it up.

When the person legally responsible for compliance is sabotaging it, and willing to fire people to cover it up? It's not athletics that's broken. What's broken is the idea of being held accountable for your actions.
posted by mikelieman at 1:34 AM on October 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Surely someone thought something was up when all these students had classes with Professor Professorson?

Hey, don't laugh. Professorson's Intro to Conspiracy Theories class has a killer final.
posted by evil otto at 3:57 AM on October 24, 2014


Melissa Harris-Perry and Dave Zirin on the scandal, particularly on the fact that the scheme originated in the African-American Studies department.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:15 AM on October 26, 2014


Mary Willingham was on Slate's Hang Up and Listen podcast this week (and spittin' fire).
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 3:50 PM on October 29, 2014


Well, at least (some of) the faculty are feeling apologetic about the way they treated whistleblower Mary Willingham.

Regarding the accreditation of UNC-Chapel Hill, it's my understanding that SASC is considering the Wainstein Report (read it here if you are so inclined...) as a new event to be investigated. The president of Macalester college called for them to be lose their accreditation in an op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

One of the more interesting sections of the report is the final section "Witnesses who Refused to Cooperate". It lists a few people who may have been involved or had knowledge of the scandal who are now working at similar positions at other universities. I've no idea if they were involved in any way, but I'd also like to think that you shouldn't work at one accredited university if you won't cooperate with an investigation of events at an accredited university that you used to work for.
posted by Mad_Carew at 9:18 AM on November 1, 2014


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