Brad Wolverton and his editor could not write a headline and opening sentence without making an inaccurate statement. "A Whistle-Blower Spurs Self-Scrutiny in College Sports" begins with the sentence, "Since exposing academic fraud at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mary Willingham says . . . ." The fact is that Mary Willingham is not a whistleblower and did not expose academic fraud. Five months before she spoke publicly about the so-called "paper classes," the university itself discovered and reported the aberrant classes through an internal investigation conducted by Senior Associate Deans Jonathan Hartlyn and William Andrews. As Wolverton knows, however, a story about a university's self-reporting its problems does not sell as well as a story about a virtuous reformer challenging a corrupt institution.
Jack Stripling's article, "At Chapel Hill, A Scandal That Won't Die," opens with a picture of Kenan Stadium and the caption, "An imminent report on problems that began in the football program will finally put the scandal to rest, UNC officials hope." Wrong. No evidence from the previous seven investigations has been found to suggest the problems originated in athletics. Through a phone conversation and several emails, I presented Stripling with the historical facts, and I explained to him that academic counselors knew the chair of the African and Afro-American Studies Department was conducting lecture courses as independent studies but that those counselors had reason to believe the chair was within his rights to do so. On August 27, I wrote to Stripling,
Counselors in Academic Support did not feel obligated to report the "paper classes" because the counselors understood that the paper classes were widely known on campus. Arts & Sciences administrators, advisors, and faculty members knew about the "paper classes" but tolerated them because Nyang'oro was a prolific researcher and because challenging his teaching would have been perceived as an infringement on his academic freedom. The UNC scandal should not be understood as malfeasance on the part of Athletics but as negligence on the part of Arts & Sciences. Likewise, the UNC scandal resulted not from an imbalance of athletics and academics but from an imbalance of research and teaching.
A more appropriate picture and caption to open Stripling's story would have been as follows:
|A forthcoming report promises to explain how one department chair was able to conduct|
more than 200 lecture courses as independent studies without any senior administrators
addressing the issue for more than 15 years.
Underscoring the reckless reporting on the UNC scandal has been the intellectually dishonest pontificating of Distinguished Professor of History Jay Smith. Of course, Smith makes an appearance in Stripling's article, and he is joined by Distinguished Professor of Political Science Frank Baumgartner, who asserts, "I’ve been astounded at the tin ear the administration has shown, continuing to say that it’s an academic scandal rather than an athletic scandal. The statistics just make it clear. You see a pattern like that, an overrepresentation that is so statistically obvious, and you reach a conclusion."
Baumgartner is referring to the fact that athletes represent 4% - 5% of the student body but constituted 45% of enrollments in the "paper classes." However, Baumgartner, abandoning the statistically rigorous methodologies of his discipline, neglects to extend the statistical context further. He fails to acknowledge the fact that enrollment percentages from 44% - 49% in courses from several departments were not unprecedented for athletes. Because athletes' practice schedules preclude a significant number of classes available to most students, athletes have tended to cluster in available classes. Therefore, Baumgartner's contention that the overrepresentation of athletes in the "paper classes" demonstrates athletics malfeasance is fallacious.
Stripling is right: the UNC scandal will not die. However, the reason the scandal persists is not because the university has engaged in obfuscation. On the contrary, UNC has been as cooperative and forthcoming as possible while remaining committed to federal privacy laws. Rather, the reason the scandal will not die is because journalists and critics recklessly ignore the facts and continue to propagate a sensationalized narrative.
In the presentation below, I have provided what I believe are the relevant statistics on the UNC scandal. (Click the right-arrow button to advance through the slides.) I expect the forthcoming Wainstein Report will provide more statistics, and I look forward to that report's release. If Baumgartner is asked to comment in the future, I hope he will respond more responsibly than he has recently.
(To download and/or print the slides, click here.)