Just wrong

I’ve been following the UNC scandal reasonably closely– a lot of the excellent reporting on the matter was done by my beloved hometown N&O.  That said, I had not fully appreciated just how depraved was the legal defense that allowed UNC to escape any NCAA sanction for decades of fraudulent classes.  I understand that there’s a good argument to be made that we don’t want the NCAA meddlingin curriculum issues, but damn, was UNC breathtakingly disingenuous and intellectually dishonest in how they abused the process.  As a professor who cares about academic integrity, this is really depressing.  As a NC resident who cares about the academic reputation of our state’s University system it’s really depressing.  This nice N&O piece linked to a number of really good takes.

Dan Wetzel explains it nicely:

In perhaps the most outlandish defense in NCAA infractions history, the school acknowledged that the classes that were taken were essentially bankrupt of any kind of teaching, learning or supervision … but that was perfectly OK with them.

To defend the basketball team, the university had to claim it wasn’t really a university.

“With respect to paper courses, there is little dispute,” the NCAA report on the case states. “The classes did not meet. They rarely, if at all, directly involved a faculty member. They required the submission of a paper, occasionally two shorter papers. The papers were often graded by the secretary, who admitted she did not read every word and occasionally did not read every page. The papers consistently received high grades. At the hearing, UNC stood by its paper courses. UNC indicated that the work was assigned, completed, turned in and graded under the professor’s guidelines. UNC also asserted that the grades are recorded on the students’ transcripts and continue to count.” [emphases mine]

That isn’t a college class. That might not even count at the El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility. Yet the University* of North Carolina is completely cool with that and continues to consider it worthy of full academic credit for not just basketball players, but all the other students who took it over nearly two decades.

Welcome to the Age of Tarkanianism, a complete rejection of the NCAA to the point where Carolina not only isn’t ashamed of academic fraud, it’s practically celebrating it.

By doing so, and since regular students also took the class, they didn’t violate NCAA rules. Sure, they took a shotgun to their academic credibility, but, hey, those championship banners get to stay. The truth is, alums probably care more about hoops anyway.

“The NCAA defers to academies on matters of academic fraud,” the NCAA conceded. “As institutions of higher education, the NCAA membership trusts fellow members to hold themselves accountable in matters of academic integrity.”

UNC was playing chess against the NCAA’s checkers. That was damn impressive, true Tark-level trolling.

Carolina even changed its argument for the NCAA. When the school was in front of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits it as an actual university, it declared that no-show, no-professor, no-work classes were wrong.

“UNC reported to its accreditor that what occurred for nearly 18 years on its campus was academic fraud,” the NCAA report stated. ” … Specifically, UNC admitted [it] demonstrated that, ‘the academic fraud was long-standing.’”

Now, though, the classes weren’t fraud. They were fine. The NCAA was astounded. The Committee on Infractions asked how this was possible.

And Yahoo’s Pat Forde:

NCAA bylaws basically say that if you’ve got a sham degree program available to the general student population at your school, and it just so happens that a high percentage of athletes are in that program, that’s your issue and not ours. As it clearly signaled it would last spring, North Carolina exploited that loophole. And as Sankey noted on the NCAA conference call to discuss the ruling Friday, UNC assailed the accuracy of the Cadwallader report its own school signed off on, which “troubled” the COI but proved persuasive.

Those strategies paid off.

“The panel is in no way supporting what happened,” Sankey said. “What happened is troubling. But the panel applied the membership’s bylaws to the facts.”

And the bylaws say that the NCAA isn’t in the business of legislating curriculum.

“The NCAA is a red herring in a lot of ways,” Yeager said. “The NCAA is not going to go in and say, ‘At Syracuse this qualifies but at Springfield College it doesn’t.’ You’re not getting into something where you’re wading in and saying, ‘The quality of your coursework sucks.’”

Meanwhile, Jason Kirk’s cynical take is absolutely correct:

Two more things that are true, based on the NCAA’s self-assigned role in college sports:

  1. If the University of North Carolina wants to offer an automatic A to anyone in the student body for a class that involves no meetings, little faculty oversight, and grading by the secretary, that’s not the NCAA’s jurisdiction. It is the jurisdiction of accreditation agencies, though, and UNC was placed on probation.
  2. If such a class were only offered to athletes, it would be the NCAA’s jurisdiction…

What’s stopping a school from setting up a similar “paper course” and making sure it’s open to all students, then sending athletes through it?

UNC did it for 18 years, winning national titles in multiple sports that sent athletes through the class, and is now off accreditation probation. Throughout this seven-year NCAA ordeal, the only actual dings it suffered were to its football program, and those were for dealings with agents and ineligible players taking the field, not for this course. The Heels took a recruiting dip, due to NCAA uncertainty, but that’s over now — and they’re the reigning March Madness champs anyway.

Yep.  I’m a college sports fan, but I hate that it is a disgusting cesspit of corruption.  To see it so totally corrode that academic mission of a premier public university is beyond depressing.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to Just wrong

  1. Derek Foster says:

    My favorite comment came from a lawyer defending Debbie Crowder. The ruling “was a victory for academic freedom and innovative teaching methods.”

  2. R. Jenrette says:

    College sports have such a corrupting influence on colleges and even high schools.
    But where is the UNC Faculty? Can they continue with an institution that tells them and their students that intellectual honesty doesn’t count, that winning at any cost is what counts?
    UNC diplomas become a joke in that atmosphere.

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