Sekerci: NCAA should take action on UNC academic scandal

Burak Sekerci, Columnist

On Oct. 22, University of North Carolina released an investigation led by lawyer Kenneth Wainstein, which concluded that UNC has been offering fake classes and giving out fabricated grades to struggling students, half of them athletes, from the African and Afro-American studies department between 1993 and 2011.

In a New York Times article last week, Sarah Lyall reported, “More than 3,100 students, 47.6 percent of them athletes, were enrolled in and received credit for the phantom classes, most of which were created and graded solely by a single employee, Deborah Crowder.” Lyall also reported that the scandal possibly includes coaches as well, who weren’t aware of the academic infractions but had their doubts over the years.

The “shadow curriculum” would include independent study courses, which didn’t have any lectures or any other instruction, whose grades were determined by a paper to write for the end of the semester. By using these fake classes, student athletes would increase their GPA to the minimum requirement so that they could gain and maintain eligibility to play.

The classes were arranged by two employees, Crowder and chairman of the African and Afro-American studies department, Julius Nyang’oro, who graded students’ papers. They were in contact with counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes, in which Crowder and Nyang’oro asked for ‘favors’ for students’ grades so that student-athletes can get the minimum required GPA to keep on playing.

Lyall also discussed a report released by UNC that says,“The counselors convened a meeting of the university’s football coaches, using a PowerPoint presentation to drive home the notion that the classes ‘had played a large role in keeping underprepared and/or unmotivated players eligible to play.’”

It is also interesting that, when these two employees retired from the university, UNC’s football team recorded its lowest GPA in ten years. The basketball team won its three championships during these eighteen years, and the team that won in 2005 had ten players who were African and Afro-American studies majors.

There have been scandals about cheating on classes in many schools, like at Harvard University and University of Minnesota, but the UNC infractions are a new level of cheating. The fact that both student-athletes and university officials were involved increases its relevance to the NCAA, UNC and the general public.

College athletes often face lower academic requirements when seeking admission, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be on level with their classmates. Completely giving up on them like UNC did is pointless. There is a reason why they are called student-athletes; they are both students and athletes, meaning they have responsibilities as a student. They still have to graduate with a degree even if they are going to play professional sports.

I don’t believe that those athletes in UNC wanted to be a part of the fake curriculum. I believe the counselors guided them in that direction so that they would remain eligible and UNC would keep its athletic reputation. UNC’s fault comes from the fact that it didn’t try to educate its own students, which is against the fundamentals of a university. A university’s purpose is to educate students, even if doing so will hurt its athletic reputation.

The moral consequences are dire for UNC, which loses respect from colleges around the country. Think about how a player in a rival school would think of UNC players; they would assume UNC athletes are cheaters and should not be allowed to play. All of the athletes are affected by this, even those who did not cheat. The actions of Crowder and Nyang’oro, the support counselors, the indifference of coaches and the failure of university officials to reveal the infractions has put a burden on all of the UNC athletes and their championships.

The NCAA states in its core values, “The Association — through its member institutions, conferences and national office staff — shares a belief in and commitment to: The collegiate model of athletics in which students participate as an avocation, balancing their academic, social and athletics experiences and the pursuit of excellence in both academics and athletics.”

These values focus on the fact that the athletes should take academics as seriously as they take athletics, which the NCAA asserts in its public relations campaign. What UNC did is against the core values of the NCAA. Ignoring education and giving up on its student-athletes is nowhere near what college sports are designed to achieve. The NCAA must take action immediately and look into the coaching staff’s involvement with these academic violations.

Burak Sekerci is a McCormick sophomore. He can be reached at[email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].