A high-powered panel has recommended 28 steps to better balance academics and athletics at UNC-Chapel Hill. As the university tries to dig out from several scandals and move forward with solutions, it’s worth reviewing UNC’s response once it knew it had problems.
It’s been clear for some time that UNC was either unwilling or unable to get to the bottom of what went wrong. More evidence of that emerged this summer. The News & Observer reported in June about emails that showed an inappropriate relationship between Julius Nyang’oro, the former UNC African studies chairman at the heart of the academic fraud scandal, and the program that tutored athletes.
Members of the academic support staff offered Nyang’oro football tickets and said he could watch the game from the sideline. One counselor offered to discuss coursework over drinks. Another negotiated with Nyang’oro to schedule a no-show class.
None of the details from the emails had appeared in any of the numerous investigations since UNC confirmed the existence of fraudulent classes in 2012.
The $940,000 report
The most extensive (and most expensive) investigation was the one led by former Gov. Jim Martin, assisted by a team from the Baker Tilly auditing firm.
UNC paid Baker Tilly $940,000 for its work, using university foundation money. Baker Tilly provided five employees at a combined cost of $1,520 per hour.
Martin and Baker Tilly did well in documenting the academic fraud back to 1997.
But in other areas, their report was inadequate. Martin concluded that the wrongdoing was an isolated academic scandal – but didn’t attempt to address why so many athletes were in Nyang’oro’s no-show classes. His report said nothing about the emails between Nyang’oro and the academic support staff.
Martin and Baker Tilly had access to all UNC emails. For $940,000, you would have thought the Baker Tilly auditors would have summoned the energy to read Nyang’oro’s emails. But apparently they didn’t.
That wasn’t the only area in which Martin and Baker Tilly were less than vigorous.
Martin and Baker Tilly said in their report that athletic department officials had raised red flags about possible academic improprieties and alerted members of the Faculty Committee on Athletics. But they didn’t interview any of the faculty committee members, except for the NCAA representative. Eight faculty committee members told us no such concerns had been raised. Baker Tilly dropped the finding.
Maybe it’s not UNC’s fault that the Martin report was so incomplete. But it doesn’t speak well of the UNC Board of Governors that some members continue to view the report as authoritative.
Public confidence lacking
To earn the confidence of the public, UNC needed to: 1) Get to the bottom of what went wrong; 2) Tell the public what it found; and 3) Move to make sure it didn’t happen again.
UNC never got to step one. That makes it more difficult to move forward.
The reform panel has made some proposals that UNC could enact (such as making financial data from the athletic department more transparent) and some that would require approval from the ACC or the NCAA (put spending caps on some sports).
Of the proposals, new UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said, “Carolina will always take advantage of the opportunity to lead.” The state and country are watching to see if UNC is serious about reform. The recommendations won’t advance unless Folt embraces them and backs them with the full force of her office.
John Drescher is editor of the News & Observer. Drescher: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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