CHAPEL HILL UNC-Chapel Hill has hired a new leader for its troubled tutoring program for athletes.
Michelle Brown, who heads academic support for athletes at Florida Atlantic University, will become director of UNC-CH’s Academic Support Program for Student Athletes. She starts the job May 6, succeeding Harold Woodard, a dean who served as interim director since last year.
Brown will oversee tutoring services for the university’s 800 student athletes. The program has been removed from the College of Arts and Sciences, and it will have no reporting relationship to the athletics department. Brown will report directly to the provost, the university’s chief academic officer.
The newly restructured operation includes four associate directors; a learning specialist; a reading, writing and learning specialist, five academic counselors and a tutor coordinator, as well as six part-time learning assistants and 57 part-time tutors. The tutors are graduate students, local school teachers and retired faculty.
The program has been under close scrutiny since the academic fraud cases that have dogged the university for more than two years. An NCAA investigation found that a former tutor, Jennifer Wiley, provided improper help to UNC football players. And a scandal in the African and Afro-American Studies department included bogus classes, grade changes and abuse of independent study courses. Athletes were disproportionately enrolled in the fraudulent courses. Records and interviews indicated that academic support counselors helped steer some athletes to the easy courses.
Brown brings 15 years of experience working with student athletes. As director of academic services for athletes and associate athletic director for Florida Atlantic, Brown has emphasized a “data driven approach in encouraging the academic and personal well-being of student-athletes,” according to an email announcing the hire to the campus.
The hiring of Brown “marks a significant milestone” toward implementing the changes announced last year by Chancellor Holden Thorp to “strengthen the relationship between academics and athletics,” wrote Provost Bruce Carney and Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Bobbi Owen.
Though the academic support program for athletes had been housed in Arts and Sciences since the early 1980s, a secondary reporting relationship to the athletics department created confusion and the opportunity for undue influence from athletics.
By having the new director report to the provost, the university aims to achieve greater separation between academics and athletics. Brown will convene a Provost’s Roundtable, a group of representatives from across the university that will work toward academic success for athletes.
The university said the changes are consistent with ideas from the faculty and recommendations from a 2011 UNC system task force report on academics and athletics. That report led UNC system President Tom Ross to direct all UNC campuses to remove academic support programs for athletes from athletics departments.
Though the athletics department at UNC-CH won’t have oversight of the academic support program, it will continue to fully fund it.
Brown’s hiring follows a big shakeup in UNC-CH administrators who were connected to tutoring and other services for athletes. Robert Mercer, former director of the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes, was moved to another position at the university. And John Blanchard, senior associate athletic director who oversaw student-athlete services, retired last month.
The university touted Brown’s academic credentials in the announcement of her hiring. She has a doctorate in higher education administration from Florida Atlantic and undergraduate degrees in international studies and French from West Virginia University, where she was a Division I volleyball player on scholarship. She studied French at the Sorbonne in Paris and at a university in Quebec.
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