It was born, in theory, out of good intentions.
That is the most frustrating thing about the massive academic fraud situation that is took place for nearly two decades at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. That scandal, which involved thousands of students and student-athletes taking part in a “shadow curriculum” of paper classes within the Afro and Afro-American Studies department has placed a black mark on one of the best public institutions of higher education in the country.
The Kenneth Wainstein report, which North Carolina released on Wednesday, was critical of not just the two former administrators—Student Services Manager Debby Crowder and Department Chair Julius Nyang’oro—that were responsible for the creation and execution of the classes, but also of the agents within the institution that let the classes continue—in particular the academic affairs officers that never investigated possible red flags and the athletics academic advising staff for not just utilizing the network of courses to help athletes maintain eligibility but for also encouraging the continuation of the scheme after one of the key players retired in 2009.
North Carolina student-athletes were not the only ones to take advantage of the paper classes, as a higher proportion of general students were enrolled in the courses. As the report states, it appears that the scheme was born out of some sort of misguided altruistic goal of ensuring that students who were struggling at North Carolina had a chance to succeed and then went unchecked for the better part of 18 years.
But the fact that the academic advisors working with student-athletes were onboard with this scheme and actively encouraging it is horrifying. That is the crux of the issue and why the thought is that the NCAA will have to make some kind of an additional determination about the standing of the program. The details that came out of the initial investigation did not really illustrate just how deep and extensive the scheme was.
Some are calling for the book to be thrown at North Carolina even though Crowder and Nyang’oro are no longer with the university and new leadership has eliminated the paper classes from the AFAM curriculum. Additionally, North Carolina has taken steps to correct the glaring deficiencies in review and oversight that let this situation spiral out of control for nearly two decades.
Sure, the NCAA could step in and add additional sanctions. Sure, the NCAA could make the Tarheels vacate wins and titles for the time period. But what, exactly, would that do? The titles were already won. The games were played; many of us watched them. And again, based on the Wainstein report, the athletic support area appears to have been reorganized as well, with new reporting lines in place and additional oversight of their activities.
Vacating the wins would be a nice symbolic gesture, and it is well known that the NCAA can handle doing symbolic things.
But the concrete changes that needed to be made have been made, and it is difficult to see what, exactly, would be the positive outcome from heaping additional sanctions on North Carolina. Since we are talking about educational things, would there be a greater learning outcome from hamstringing the programs that were tied to the scandal?
This appears to have been an issue in one academic department at North Carolina that decided to go rogue and was not spread across the entire institution. If this were truly an institution-wide, multiple department scandal, then by all means blow things up.
But for now, North Carolina’s reputation will take a hit, and they will suffer the modern day slings and arrows of snarkmasters quick to make a Twitter joke or an internet meme.
The tangible, corrective actions have been taken. All institutions could serve to learn from this and make sure that their houses are in better order so that they, too, do not suffer the same fate.