More UNC recap

A few more UNC-related links:

1) The News and Observer’s Jane Stancill had a good report on yesterday’s UNC faculty council meeting. One portion of the proceedings that she highlighted was a statement read by Professor of History Harry Watson on behalf of the Athletic Reform Group (ARG) of which I am a part. ARG asked, among other things, that the university apologize to Mary Willingham. The portion of the statement that Stancill reported read:

“[She] told the university for free what the Wainstein report confirms and documents in excruciating detail,” he said. “Had UNC embraced her leadership in 2012, the university would have been spared years of humiliation and untold financial costs.”

2) Lew Margolis, another ARG member, wrote a worthwhile column this week, identifying a number of “head fakes” he believes defenders of big-time athletics at places like UNC use to rationalize the perpetuation of such a fraught and problematic enterprise.


The diversity head fake is a second way in which big-time sports collide with the academic mission of UNC. In response to a question about whether UNC should admit students who are seemingly at high academic risk, giving undue weight to their athletic accomplishments, Chancellor Folt and others misdirect. The response is usually that UNC wants athletes, just as we are proud to recruit students who are first in their families to attend college or veterans or others outside of the admissions mainstream, because UNC believes that diversity enriches the academic environment. There is a fundamental difference, however, between those groups and the revenue sport athletes. The first in their families or the veterans are admitted because UNC recognizes that with an education, these graduates will personally benefit from their academic degrees and consequently enrich the state and the country. UNC benefits those students. Revenue athletes, in striking contrast, are admitted to benefit UNC, to enrich the athletic teams on which they labor. …The most disturbing part of this head fake is that too often it is largely through football and basketball that UNC and every other Division 1 school are able to recruit African-American males to campus. If diversity is an educational value for UNC, it is hardly advanced by taking advantage of revenue athletes—using them as means and not ends—by accepting their isolation from the academic mainstream and campus life. Utilizing revenue sports as the primary mechanism for making UNC accessible to African-American males is a diversity head fake.

Margolis raises a number of fraught issues here. Race has been a central – if often unarticulated – issue in the UNC scandal. Some in the campus community have, quite understandably, argued that the focus on academically under-qualified athletes casts a racial taint over all black athletes and, indeed, black male students more broadly. But it is a fact that a significant proportion of the relatively low numbers of black men admitted to UNC each year are recruited athletes. And that some recruited athletes, particularly in the revenue sports, enter the university less well prepared to succeed in the class room. All of that is exacerbated by the the time demands their athletic commitments require and the likelihood that many, though certainly not all, are more worried about positioning themselves to play professionally than to succeed in the classroom.

Diversity, to be clear, is a worthwhile goal for a university for all sorts of reasons. What’s troubling, though, is when it’s used by those wishing to defend the athletic enterprise to swat away serious criticisms of that enterprise. At times, race has been used in that way during the now years-long unfolding of the academic fraud at UNC.

3) On Thursday, the school newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, had what may have been the single best piece I’ve read since the release of the Wainstein report ten days ago. In particular, it handled with great nuance and insight the question of how to evaluate the culpability of the athletes themselves who participated in the bogus classes:

In our rush to defend the value of our degrees, the rigor of our coursework and our cherished athletic idols, many of us have been far too willing to ignore the moral implications of athletes’ participation in fraudulent classes.

To be sure, paper classes ended before most of us arrived at UNC. Furthermore, many athletes produced academic work in their paper classes. Yet a tremendous number did not. Between 1999 and 2011, a full 21 percent of UNC athletes and 2 percent of the general student body took a paper class. Over 40 percent of those papers contained 25 percent or more unoriginal material.

Athletes were virtually the sole participants in bifurcated paper classes and, through their interactions with tutors and coaches, had substantial knowledge of the full scope of the paper class system. Thus, among students, they were in the best position to spot and report fraud. Failure to acknowledge this truth denies athletes their moral agency.

But this agency was denied in varying degrees by factors beyond their control. Players who spoke up might have faced retribution from teammates or coaches. Athletes spend massive amounts of time practicing and traveling and — in some cases — were admitted despite their limited preparation for college-level work. If a player has been socialized to see class as a cumbersome addendum to athletics, they might detect little wrong with paper classes.

Does this describe the situation that a majority of cheating athletes found themselves in?

If so, collegiate athletics at UNC are immoral. Any system so powerful that it could deny most athletes the ability to make choices about cheating needs to be eliminated or dramatically reformed.

If this does not describe the status quo — if some players quietly exploited the path of least resistance — then they, too, deserve blame for harming UNC.

Unfortunately, the Wainstein report, with its limited scope, failed to ask this question.

Individuals hold many identities. In this case, it seems reasonable to conclude that hundreds of athletes might have been both victims of a system beyond their control and collaborators in the worst aspects of that system.


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