Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dan Kane and the N&O's Double Standard

The N&O applies a high standard to evidence that contradicts their narrative, but a lesser standard to evidence that supports their narrative.

Soon after the Martin Report was released, multiple N&O writers dismissed it as a whitewash. Their primary reason was that Martin did not verify his finding that the director of academic support for student-athletes and an athletics administrator informed faculty that Julius Nyang'oro was conducting lecture classes as independent studies. To the N&O, Martin's failure to verify discredited his entire report. Furthermore, N&O writers reasoned, without evidence that the event in question happened, athletics and academic support were complicit in the fraud.*

Yet Dan Kane has continually cited a similarly unverified anecdote in the Wainstein Report to support the N&O's narrative of academic support's complicity.

Friday, June 5, 2015

UNC's Lack of Institutional Control: Not an Athletics-Driven Scandal

As expected, the NCAA has accused UNC of lacking institutional control. No one should be surprised by that allegation.

However, contrary to the news media’s narrative, UNC’s alleged lack of institutional control (LOIC) was not the result of a corrupt Athletics department. Rather, UNC’s alleged LOIC was the result of a complacent Arts & Sciences (A&S) administration. Prior to receiving the notice of allegations (NOA), we had evidence that five A&S deans possessed at least some knowledge of either Julius Nyang’oro’s anomalous course offerings or his dereliction of duties, yet none of the deans intervened enough to put a halt to the infamous paper classes. The news media has ignored the deans’ failings, but the NCAA has rightly (for once) made the deans the focus of the LOIC allegation, stating that “individuals in the academic administration on campus, particularly in the college of arts and sciences” failed to supervise academic departments within the College (NOA, p. 49).

Again, the evidence pointing to A&S’s lack of institutional control (LOIC) has been available for quite some time, particularly in the Wainstein Report. Yet academic failings, though actually more threatening to a university’s integrity, are not as inherently sensational as the athletics-driven scandal the news media, especially the N&O, needs the story to be. The news media’s narrative of an athletics-driven scandal is now so entrenched in unthinking people’s minds that the NCAA’s clear allegation of LOIC against A&S will be hard for many media consumers even to recognize.

Nonetheless, the facts are clear: the paper classes were not the result of Athletics corruption.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Taking Coaching the Mind to Film

One of my life goals has been to write for film. A year ago, I had no idea an opportunity to do so would present itself at this point in my life, but that opportunity has come indeed. Yesterday I left UNC, on good terms, to begin working on a feature documentary film that will challenge the popular understanding of the alleged athletics scandal. The decision to leave was difficult, but I made it with the conviction that this film is important and with the hope to return to UNC after the film is completed.

Honestly, I wish my first film could be about another subject, but the media’s continued sensationalism and Jay Smith’s relentless defamation compel me to take this fight to the next level.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Wainstein's Impressions and Lessons from Serial

"Rather than try to get to the truth, what you're trying to do is build your case and make it the strongest case possible." – Jim Trainum, former homicide detective

Millions of people around the world now believe Adnan Syed was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1999. Last fall, Syed's case captivated listeners and propelled Serial to becoming the most popular podcast in the world. Over the course of 12 episodes, host Sarah Koenig investigated the circumstances of Syed's conviction, the evidence for which seems alarmingly inconclusive. Yet the jury 16 years ago reached their verdict after only two hours of deliberation. Serial's first season is Koenig's attempt to understand how that happened.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Wainstein Report Exam

For the past three weeks, journalists and academic blowhards have run amok in reaction to the Wainstein Report. Brian Barbour and Michael Harris have documented the rancor on the national level, and earlier this week I wrote about the seething hypocrisy of UNC's (Anti-) Athletics Reform Group. Journalistic sensationalism is to be expected, but the intellectually dishonest bluster from some faculty members is unsettling. As historians, several of them surely teach their students to engage texts critically, but they themselves have eschewed their scholarly dispositions and selectively accepted aspects of the Wainstein Report without the slightest hint of critical reading.

For that reason, I have constructed an exam that I am proposing all UNC faculty members require themselves to pass before commenting on the Wainstein Report publicly. Misinformation hinders democratic participation because it undermines our ability to form sound opinions. Hodding Carter, Jay Smith, and Harry Watson have contributed to the spread of misinformation by pontificating on the implications of the Wainstein Report as if they had actually read it closely. I implore them and others to spare us their opinions unless they can pass this exam, which actually should not be difficult. I have made it very easy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Wainstein Report and the (Anti-) Athletics Reform Group

"I am encouraged by the overall support from the entire staff here at the Academic Center as well as across the campus. It is a pleasure to work in a learning community that supports the needs of students, and is willing to meet the challenges of this changing population." – Mary Willingham, 2007 Annual Report, Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes
"I never doubted you or that you helped students enormously and selflessly loved them and Carolina. The story of how our UNC athletic system worked/had to work and the dedicated people behind the scenes is nothing short of amazing. You played a role in it and you should be proud - our students (and staff) loved you [. . .]. The collegiate sport system (profit sport model) is messed up, not the people (well, maybe some of those guys in Indianapolis)." – Mary Willingham, email to former academic support staff member, September 4, 2013

Over the course of UNC's 221-year history, few people have left a legacy as moving as Fred Clark's. Widely known as a warmhearted teacher and a compassionate advisor, Clark served Carolina students for 47 years before he passed away in September. He was a Professor in the Romance Languages Department, and he served as the Associate Dean of Academic Services for several years. Nonetheless, the accomplishment of which he was proudest was coordinating the Carolina Covenant Scholars program for students from low-income families, a responsibility he maintained even after he retired. No one can question Clark's commitment to student well-being. He was a true educator and represented the best of higher education.

Several months ago, I heard from a UNC alum and former Covenant Scholar who was one of Clark's advisees. This proud graduate told me how Clark had helped him tremendously when he was a student struggling in school. One of Clark's recommendations was to take an AFAM paper class. So the student enrolled, wrote the paper, earned a good grade, eventually graduated, and has never felt anything but gratitude toward Clark.

In the Wainstein Report released two weeks ago, Clark's knowledge of the paper classes is confirmed:
Clark was aware of the AFAM paper classes at the time that they were offered; his understanding was that they were courses that required a long paper and did not require attendance. Clark explained that that professors do not question other professors’ courses, and so long as a department was offering a course, it was a legitimate course (p. 107).
Clark—who, remember, was an associate dean for several years—regularly recommended the paper classes to struggling students, but no one will dare question his integrity or the sincerity of his commitment to student well-being. Nor should they: he was an example for all faculty members, and we can only hope his legacy will inspire more to emulate him.

Yet if we employ the logic of the (Anti-) Athletics Reform Group (hereafter referred to as A-ARG), the Carolina Covenant program should be dissolved as a result of Clark's recommending the paper classes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Jay Smith Makes Accusation of Mental Instability

On April 1, I posted an essay, titled "Silent Dishonesty," in which I revealed that Distinguished Professor Jay Smith knew former learning specialist Mary Willingham had publicly misrepresented the intended purpose of her infamous research on UNC athletes' reading levels.

According to Smith, my exposing his silent dishonesty makes me mentally unstable.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Mary Willingham Appears to have Plagiarized Passages of her Master's Thesis

Oh, the irony.

Unfortunately for Mary Willingham, her Pack Pride cheerleaders are not the only fan base who can scan documents for plagiarism.

Willingham, readers may recall, is the former reading specialist who became The N&O's whistleblower extraordinaire in November 2012 when she made the unverified allegation that UNC academic support staff had tolerated cheating among athletes. In her breakout media appearance, Willingham contended that she became concerned about academic integrity early in her career working with athletes, after one athlete presented her with a paper Willingham described as a "cut-and-paste job."

Monday, July 28, 2014

Steering the Narrative (Part 3): The Martin Report

This is Part 3 of a three-part essay. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Omitting Key Findings

The N&O’s reporting and editorializing on the Martin Report may be best described as journalistic malfeasance, and executive editor John Drescher is the culprit most blameworthy.

Jim Martin is a former North Carolina governor and U.S. representative with a PhD in Chemistry. With the assistance of Baker Tilly, a national accounting firm, Martin conducted the most extensive investigation of the UNC scandal to date, gathering data as far back as 1994. After he concluded his investigation, he presented his Report to the UNC Board of Governors, on December 20, 2012. In Martin’s presentation, he distilled the Report down to 15 key findings that conjointly support his conclusion (pp. 71 – 74). However, his conclusionthat the AFRI/AFAM scandal was an academics scandal, not an athletics scandalwas not the conclusion Drescher was counting on for his star investigative reporter to win a Pulitzer.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Steering the Narrative (Part 2): Mary Willingham's and Michael McAdoo's Overlapping Claims

This is Part 2 of a three-part essay. You can read Part 1 here.

“Steering” Michael McAdoo

Former UNC basketball player Rashad McCants has been, in the words of another former UNC basketball player, quite the “clown” lately. However, despite his onslaught of defamatory and ludicrous claims, he deserves some credit for his willingness to disclose his transcript to ESPN. That is more than can be said for former UNC football player Michael McAdoo, who has also made negative claims about his academic experiences at UNC but has never provided even circumstantial evidence (beyond his plagiarized paper) to verify those claims. While UNC detractors cry for more athletes to release their transcripts, perhaps they should direct their pleas first to McAdoo.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Steering the Narrative (Part 1): Mary Willingham's Original and Contradicting Claims

The NCAA’s decision to reopen the UNC case should not surprise anyone. Previous investigations into the academics scandal were only as thorough as they could be without the testimonies of Julius Nyang’oro and Debbie Crowder. (Nyang’oro was the professor who, for well over a decade, conducted hundreds of African Studies [AFRI] and Afro-American Studies [AFAM] lecture classes as independent studies, commonly known as “paper classes,” and graded them very leniently. Crowder was his office manager.) Nyang’oro’s and Crowder’s recent cooperation with the Wainstein investigation gives the NCAA justifiable cause to inquire whether Wainstein has uncovered any new information indicating whether UNC committed NCAA infractions hitherto unknown. Truth-seekers should welcome Wainstein’s findings and the NCAA’s inquiry alike.

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Experience as a UNC Student-Athlete: A (Not So) Different Perspective

In this essay, guest blogger and former UNC golfer Bob Cherry recalls his academic experience as a student-athlete who took one of the infamous "paper classes" and earned a real education nonetheless. In fact, Bob Cherry is now Dr. Cherry, a practicing dentist in Wilmington, NC. Although his perspective on the academic experience of UNC student-athletes is different from what the media has presented, he believes it is not so different from that of the vast majority of UNC student-athletes. 

My name is Bob Cherry, and I am a Tar Heel.

Though I was reluctant to sound clichĂ© and start my essay that way, I feel that statement—“I am a Tar Heel”—can still be a rally cry, of sorts, for people who love UNC like I do. Those of us who have been to the Dean Dome or Kenan Stadium over the past few years have seen the videos of famous UNC athletes making that simple statement, affirming their Tar Heel identity, and so I felt compelled to follow their lead. This essay is my way of affirming my identity as a Tar Heel and offering a different and, in my opinion, more complete side of the UNC athlete’s story than the one being rehashed in the media.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Truth is Not in the Transcripts: Refuting Willingham, McCants, and Kane

Last week Rashad McCants appeared on ESPN's Outside the Lines for a second time, to defend allegations he made against his former teammates, academic support staff, and coaches at UNC. McCants asserted that the truth is in the transcripts, a mantra traced back to Mary Willingham. N&O reporter Dan Kane supports both Willingham and McCants.

As a discredited public figure, Mary Willingham belongs in the company of Andrew Wakefield. In February 1998, Wakefield, a physician and researcher, stunned the medical and pharmaceutical communities at a press conference where he called for the suspension of the MMR vaccine because he believed it could cause autism. He supported his hypothesis by citing results from a study he published that month in The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal. In his study of 12 children with developmental disorders, Wakefield reported discovering a link between the MMR vaccine, bowel disease, and autism. News of the study quickly spread throughout the world and has led to the widespread fear of vaccines and the decline of vaccine rates, triggering a surge of preventable diseases that had been nearly eradicated in American and European societies.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Fool's Argument: Jay Smith's Poor Defense of Willingham's Research

“The fool who knows his folly
Becomes wise by that fact.
But the fool who thinks he's wise—
He's called 'a fool' indeed!”
― The Buddha 
“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” ― Benjamin Franklin

Jay Smith should stop speaking for Mary Willingham. Although he is clearly more articulate than she in general, he nonetheless reveals his glaring ignorance of educational assessment whenever he comments on the subject. I would never engage Smith in a debate about French monsters. For his own sake, he should likewise refrain from engaging me in a debate about educational assessment. His attempts thus far have only made him look like a fool. More clearly than any of Smith’s previous statements, his latest blog entry illustrates his failure to grasp the nuances of the debate over Willingham’s research, and his pretense of understanding amounts to nothing more than sophistry.

Monday, April 14, 2014

SATA-gate: How One Woman’s Inflated Statistics and Embellished Recollections Made Her Famous

Numbers, not just words, tell stories. As with words, the arrangement and selection of numbers determine both the accuracy and the perspective of the story. Readers, therefore, must be discerning when encountering a story told with numbers, especially when the source of that story makes claims like, “My data is 100% correct.

When I was in middle school, I wanted to be a rapper. Reflecting on that time of my life, I cannot help but laugh at my puerile imagination. The self-aggrandizing stage name I had selected for myself was Daddy Smooth, and I still, in jest, occasionally refer to myself as such when going out for Karaoke with my friends.

Although I gave up my fantasy of being a rapper a long time ago, I am still a fan of hip-hop. One of my favorite hip hop artists is Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def. On his 1999 album Black on Both Sides, he has a song called “Mathematics,” which I have been listening to and thinking about continually over the past three months. A paradoxical lyric from the song goes, “You wanna know how to rhyme / You better learn how to add / It’s mathematics.”

Without hearing the rest of the song or being familiar with Bey’s oeuvre, one would likely wonder how rhyming (rapping) and mathematics have anything to do each other. Unlike many of the more commercially successful rap songs, Bey’s hip hop reflects the lyricist’s heightened social consciousness and penchant for social commentary. Bey understands that the stories we tell ourselves as a society are often stories told with numbers. Hence, if our numbers are not right, our stories are likely not right, either.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Silent Dishonesty: Distinguished Professor Withholds Truth About Research on Athletes

At a public forum in April 2013, Jay Smith, UNC Distinguished Professor of History, provocatively argued that faculty and athletics departments should become more adversarial with each other. The reason: faculty are committed to truth, whereas athletics departments, Professor Smith averred, are committed to winning. According to his reasoning, the two commitments are mutually exclusive. Rather ironically, his actions since delivering his diatribe before a crowd of hundreds seem to support his reasoning. As I will demonstrate in this essay, Professor Smith himself seems to be the one so committed to winning he is willing to forgo his commitment to truth.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Research Methods Matter for Study of UNC Athletes' Reading Levels

Soon the independent review of Mary Willingham's findings will be released, and we will know the truth about UNC athletes' reading levels. The truth, I am sure, is that her findings grossly misrepresented the data. She claimed 70% of her sample, which consisted of mostly men's basketball and football players, read below a high school level. Based on my experience, I would not be surprised if the inverse is even too high a number. In other words, I would not be surprised if the actual number is less than 30%.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Truth and Literacy at UNC

Taunts from the home crowd are to be expected in college basketball, but on January 20th the taunts from Virginia’s student section were more degrading than usual. UNC was the visiting team that night, and anytime a UNC player stepped to the foul line to shoot his free throws, his concentration was challenged by Virginia fans singing the ABCs and reading children’s books aloud. The implication, of course, was that UNC players are illiterate.

Such insults came less than two weeks after CNN released a report on college athletes’ reading levels, highlighting the claims of a former UNC reading specialist who presented data on the athletes with whom she worked at UNC. Mary Willingham, the former reading specialist, claimed that 60% of the 183 athletes she sampled between 2004 and 2012 read between a fourth and eighth grade reading level, and that another 10% were functionally illiterate.

Over the past month or so, I have watched with dismay as the local and national media have created a spectacular melodrama out of what should have been a brief and rational debate over verifiable claims. This melodrama has been particularly poignant for me because I am the current reading and writing specialist for student-athletes at UNC. As such, I work every day with the student-athletes whom this controversy has concerned.

Although questions of truth have been latent in the media’s reporting, the media have been unconcerned with such questions. For higher education professionals, however, such questions are the questions that matter most. Truth and discovery, as one UNC professor has argued, form the foundation on which both education and research are built. Therefore, the truth about UNC athletes’ literacy rates should be of the highest concern for UNC faculty, administrators, athletics staff, and all stakeholders in college athletics across the country.