Academic fraud and UNC Chapel Hill grate on the ears. The words arent easily linked or believed. After all, Chapel Hill is widely considered one of the top public universities academically in the nation.
Yet the latest revelations stemming from a UNC football scandal that led to the firing of coach Butch Davis and a one-year NCAA ban on postseason play chip away further at the schools stellar reputation. Worse, each new revelation seems to punctuate foot-dragging from university and UNC system officials who should have been more aggressive in trying to uncover the truth to safeguard the integrity of the football program and academic instruction.
Instead, officials reactions to this scandal have observers publicly deriding the Carolina Way, the description of the UNC athletic departments stated focus on academics as well as athletics in building student-athletes. The unfolding academic fraud sadly inspires such derision.
The latest story was detailed in Sundays (Raleigh) News & Observer. It not only highlighted that 54 largely phantom African and Afro-American studies classes where little or no instruction took place were allowed on the UNC schedule over the last four years but that the classes were structured in ways to manipulate attendance. The preponderance of students in these no-show classes were athletes or former ones.
UNC Chapel Hill and UNC system officials deny the classes were set up to benefit athletes because non-athletes were in suspect classes too. This head-scratching, self-delusional reaction is disappointing. Others were enrolled, to be sure. But football and basketball players comprised nearly 40 percent of the enrollment in those classes, far outpacing their percentage (1 percent) in the schools undergraduate population. And some classes were populated only by athletes.
Were glad to read that UNC system president Tom Ross has called the situation deplorable and contrary to everything the system stands for. Last month, he finally appointed a four-member panel to review UNCs internal academic fraud probe. He said if the UNC board isnt satisfied with the review or pending investigations by the State Bureau of Investigation, the board will launch a full probe.
But that board panel wasnt announced until after observers had railed that N.C. State was treated differently when improprieties were raised about the Wolfpack basketball program 23 years ago. When that happened, the UNC system board launched a probe that led to the departures of coach Jim Valvano and Chancellor Bruce Poulton.
And it was Orange County DA Jim Woodall who called for the SBI probe into possible criminal wrongdoing in June. The UNC system said a day later that it too had asked the SBI to get involved.
UNC continues to fumble on this matter. Instead of being in damage-control mode, officials would have better served the public whose dollars support the system by engaging in a proactive, aggressive and transparent pursuit of the truth.
Its not too late. UNC contends these problems are limited to one professor, Julius Nyangoro, who taught (was supposed to teach) the courses and was forced into early retirement on July 1. Yet the fallout has been widespread.
Big losers are the students who took pretend classes which lax oversight at UNC shamefully allowed. But this scandal also casts a cloud over the integrity of the entire university, and its oversight of programs and personnel. Lifting it will require more openness and vigor from UNC officials than has been evident so far.