This week, a scathing report written and investigated by lawyer Kenneth Wainstein was released, detailing how thousands of students, hundreds of them student-athletes, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduated by taking many “paper classes,” courses where students would submit a single research paper at the end of the semester without class time, instruction or homework. These courses were created as GPA boosters that yielded fake high grades. The report claims that instructors would even assign grades without reading the papers for their content. These classes allowed many student-athletes to remain eligible for their sport.
The report estimates that at least 3,000 students took the classes since their creation in 1993, and athletes accounted for 47.6 percent of enrollment in these types of courses between 1999 and 2011. The athletic program, which has been investigated for the past five years over various accusations of NCAA academic rules violations, could be in shambles because of these findings. Numerous coaches, advisors, professors and administrators are presumably headed out the door because of their participation in and knowledge of these courses.
The University of North Carolina has been known for its successful athletic program (winning many national championships in various sports) and excellent academics, but there is testimony that some of the athletes couldn’t even read at a fifth-grade level. Because of paper classes designed by Debbie Crowder, assistant to the department chair of African and Afro-American Studies, these students were able to graduate. African and Afro-American Studies Department Chair Julius Nyang’oro knew about these courses, but did not stop them from being scheduled.
What’s worse, Jan Boxill, former women’s basketball academic advisor and director of UNC’s Center for Ethics, is also implicated in the report. Boxill is accused of suggesting that instructors give athletes certain grades that would allow them to stay eligible for their sport. There are also allegations that she helped these athletes write their papers. One particularly popular class was a third-level Swahili course, in which students could satisfy their foreign language requirement by writing a single paper about Swahili culture in English rather than learning any of the Swahili language.
This scandal, deemed as the “largest and most nefarious in NCAA enforcement history,” by Gerald Gurney, president of the Drake group — an organization for academic integrity within athletics in higher education — could tarnish the UNC athletic program forever, and rightfully so. The University of North Carolina’s mission statement states that the institution will “…serve as a center for research, scholarship, and creativity and to teach a diverse community of undergraduate, graduate and professional students to become the next generation of leaders.” The findings of this report prove that this is not truly the mission of the university, at least not for student-athletes.
The University of North Carolina failed its students, faculty and alumni by allowing this clear fraud to occur, and the high-up administration at UNC ought to be ashamed of themselves for allowing these classes to occur for decades unsupervised. For as many faculty members, coaches and advisers that were involved in this scandal, someone needs to take a broom and sweep out every single staff member that was involved and start from scratch. Other universities who hired faculty members and coaches that were implicated in the report should take special note as well — it would not come as a surprise if some of these staff members initiated similar programs at their new institutions.
Universities across the nation are covering themselves from all sorts of on-campus liabilities through creating more stringent policy — Greek life, academic dishonesty and plagiarism just to name a few. What could be lacking at some of them is accountability and oversight of athletic programs and academics of student-athletes.
This is not to say that every university is acting in this way — I am confident that the vast majority of institutions with athletics are awarding their degrees appropriately to athletes. But even one degree wrongly given is one too many, and is an insult to students who challenged themselves and worked hard to obtain their degree.
Athletics are extremely important on nearly all college campuses, as most athletic directors report directly to the university president. Athletics bring in huge donations and help with recruitment of stellar students. However, this scandal should — and needs to — serve as an eye-opener for athletic programs at universities across the nation. In light of this report, it is necessary for every university athletic program to reexamine how far is too far when it comes to special treatment of student-athletes, especially when it is concerning academic programs.
Caden Fabbi studies political science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.