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N.C. Opinions: Greensboro

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Lay down law, UNC: No gifts for professors, others

From an editorial Wednesday in the (Greensboro) News & Record:

Julius Nyang’oro was given very nice treatment by the people who provided academic support for football players at UNC Chapel Hill.

On one occasion in 2010, that took the form of a brunch before a game, drinks at halftime and a place on the sideline. Nyang’oro and his family were invited to attend other games, too.

This information comes from emails released by the university to The News & Observer of Raleigh nearly a year after the newspaper first requested them. They show a close working relationship between Nyang’oro, the former chairman of the Department of African and Afro-American studies, and people who provided academic support for football players. UNC officials had denied such a relationship.

The truth is important because, as previous investigations have shown, many football players took courses in Nyang’oro’s department that didn’t hold classes and seemed to require little work.

Former Gov. Jim Martin headed an investigation last year. One of his most significant statements: “The review team identified no confirmation for speculation that the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA) academic counselors colluded with instructors or administrators to offer anomalous course sections for the benefit of student-athletes or engage in any improper activities to maintain eligibility of a student-athlete.”

Martin must not have seen these emails because they certainly suggest collusion – and in one case even a negotiation to schedule such a course.

New investigations are warranted. They should do what Martin did not, which is to interview all of the key figures involved. Nyang’oro, who retired last year, and the academic counselors should explain whether they did work together to create easy ways for athletes to receive course credit and maintain their eligibility. Was it part of the deal for Nyang’oro to receive favors in exchange?

Academic fraud tarnishes the integrity of the whole university, not just its football program. Yet, if anything, it’s been made to look even worse by the university’s gross mishandling of information. Rather than uncover all the wrongdoing, accept criticism, fix the problems and move forward, it has tried to keep some information hidden. Then, when it finally spills out, the cycle of bad publicity begins again. That’s just where the university finds itself now.

Among the many early steps incoming Chancellor Carol Folt must take is to lay down some law: Academic support counselors should not bestow gifts and favors on professors or department heads. It might look like an effort to win special treatment for certain students. It would look exactly like that.

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