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.

A&S Deans

Primary among the facts the news media, especially the N&O, has refused to acknowledge is that Athletics informed A&S about the paper classes. Specifically, Senior Associate Athletics Director John Blanchard discussed the paper classes with Senior Associate Dean Bobbie Owen, and she told him that professors have the academic freedom to conduct their classes however they choose. The Wainstein Report states that Owen recalled

conversations with John Blanchard about the propriety of AFAM lecture courses that were reportedly being conducted as independent studies. Blanchard approached Owen with his concern, and while Owen does not recall precise details of the conversation, she stated that she would have told Blanchard that the professors decide how to teach their classes. Owen explained that even as the Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, she was not responsible for course content; instead, she reported, the faculty are responsible for what happens inside their classrooms (Wainstein Report, p. 104).

Furthermore, the Wainstein Report reveals that Fred Clark, who was an Associate Dean for several years, not only knew about but also recommended the paper classes to students:

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 professors do not question other professors’ courses, and so long as a department was offering a course, it was a legitimate course. As an advisor, Clark would frequently advise students to consult with the AFAM Department to see what courses were available, as he knew that the AFAM courses were not overly taxing and were popular with students (p. 107).

Important to note is that Clark was the Associate Dean to whom the director of the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA) reported. Though the Wainstein Report does not mention this, I have learned in interviews for my documentary film that Clark reaffirmed to ASPSA that they should not be concerned about the paper classes, because faculty have the academic freedom to conduct their classes as such.

Additionally, both Associate Dean Carolyn Cannon and Senior Assistant Dean Alice Dawson knew about the paper classes. Cannon was the director of A&S advising, and, though she refused to be interviewed for Wainstein’s investigation, retired advisor Betsy Taylor attested to discussing Deborah Crowder and the paper classes with Cannon:

At some point Taylor learned that Crowder was someone who was able to help students, including through paper classes. Taylor thought Crowder told her about the paper classes. Crowder would set up classes for students who needed the courses to graduate. Taylor said that most of the [A&S] advisors knew about these classes, including Carolyn Cannon. Taylor stated that she had specific conversations about the classes with Cannon, and it was Taylor’s understanding that Cannon spoke to Dean Owen about the classes as well (p. 117).

Dawson is still an A&S advisor and Senior Assistant Dean and testified to knowing that Crowder

would add students to independent studies after the registration deadline had passed, and would at times create a course section that a student needed to graduate. The advisors understood that these courses—both the independent studies and the lecture sections that Crowder created—required a long paper but no class attendance (p. 68).

Last, Jay Smith, though reportedly possessing no knowledge of the paper classes, did know Nyang’oro was derelict in his duties as department chair. While serving as the Associate Dean of Curriculum, Smith became aware that Nyang’oro had failed to submit his syllabi for curricular review. Smith admitted so in an email debate with a respected AFAM professor, stating,

The great majority of AFRI/AFAM courses were not submitted for Gen Ed consideration in time for the fall 2006 deadline. We only realized this well after we had considered the 4000 course syllabi that had been submitted. Our efforts to contact Julius were fruitless. (He never responded to emails.) Eventually, many of the courses were submitted, but it took about 2 years for Afri/Afam to catch up with the rest of the College on this.*

For nearly two years, Nyang’oro ignored Smith’s requests, but, apparently, Smith did not bother to inform any higher-ranking deans about the situation. Had Smith done so, the University may have investigated Nyang’oro sooner.

Recall that Smith and N&O Executive Editor John Drescher dismissed the entire Martin Report after they challenged Martin’s finding that Athletics and ASPSA informed academics about the paper classes. Well, seven months ago Wainstein demonstrated academics did know about the paper classes, but neither Smith nor Drescher have sufficiently acknowledged that fact or its implications. Athletics and ASPSA made deans aware of the paper classes, and those deans reassured Athletics and ASPSA that the classes did not warrant concern. Thus, UNC did demonstrate a lack of institutional control, but, as the NCAA has recognized, the lack of institutional control was on the part of Arts & Sciences administrators, not Athletics.

Impermissible Benefits

The NOA alleges that athletes received impermissible benefits “not generally available to the student body,” but, important to note, the NCAA does not identify the paper classes themselves as the impermissible benefits. In other words, contrary to the popular narrative, the paper classes were not the creation of a corrupt Athletics department. Rather, the paper classes were anomalous classes created for and offered to all students. The alleged impermissible benefits came from academic counselors and included the following “special arrangements” (NOA, p. 1):

  1. requesting certain course offerings within the AFRI/AFAM department on behalf of student-athletes
  2. contacting individuals within the AFRI/AFAM department to register student-athletes in courses
  3. obtaining assignments for classes taught in the AFRI/AFAM department on behalf of student-athletes
  4. suggesting assignments to the AFRI/AFAM department for student-athletes to complete
  5. turning in papers on behalf of student-athletes
  6. recommending grades 

Notice that writing papers for athletes was not one of the alleged "special arrangements." Basically, the "special arrangements" amounted to academic counselors’ acting "on behalf of" athletes when communicating with AFRI/AFAM—in other words, providing too much assistance to athletes enrolling and enrolled in paper classes. That does not mean, nor does any evidence indicate, that the counselors or anyone in Athletics knew the paper classes were fraudulent. Therefore, we can dispel the notion, critical to the news media's narrative, that academic counselors colluded with Crowder in an academic fraud scheme. Counselors did know the classes were irregular, but, as I explained earlier, both Senior Associate Dean Bobbie Owen and Associate Dean Fred Clark had assured Athletics and ASPSA that professors have the academic freedom to conduct classes in such a manner. 

Furthermore, UNC may be able to make a compelling defense against some of the alleged "special arrangements." Considering Fred Clark’s, Alice Dawson’s, and Betsy Taylor’s own arrangements with Nyang’oro and/or Crowder, UNC could argue that at least the first two "special arrangements" listed were not limited to athletes and therefore not particularly special (see quotations from Wainstein Report above). The other "special arrangements" certainly do not apply to all academic counselors. For example, we already knew from the Wainstein Report that Jan Boxill and Cynthia Reynolds were the only counselors who recommended grades. Likewise, they were the only counselors, I believe, who suggested assignments for athletes (if I am wrong about that, please let me know in the comments section). The remaining two "special arrangements" included obtaining assignment prompts from the AFRI/AFAM department and turning in athletes’ papers to the department for the athletes. Anyone tweeting hot takes about such arrangements is likely either a disgruntled expert on imaginary French monsters or a bitter fan of a rival school whose recent athletic success has been limited to bass fishing.

Sensationalism notwithstanding, the additional impermissible benefits Boxill allegedly provided (collectively comprising a distinct allegation against her in the NOA) do compound the seriousness of the NOA. Yet those additional impermissible benefits amount to only six instances, over a three-year period, of Boxill’s providing inappropriate assistance on athletes’ papers (pp. 35-36). She should not have provided that assistance, and her arrangements with Crowder over the years appear too intrusive, but even Boxill’s improprieties do not indicate systemic corruption in Athletics. Boxill was a caring teacher and academic counselor who went too far in her efforts to help student-athletes. None of the evidence suggests she was motivated by a desire to help the women’s basketball team win, nor does the evidence suggest women’s basketball compelled her to act as she did.

Boxill’s actions—and those of the other academic counselors—may technically make the UNC case an athletics scandal, but that is not the same as an athletics-driven scandal.

Lack of Institutional Control

Under the allegation delineating LOIC, the NOA states,

The AFRI/AFAM department created anomalous courses that went unchecked for 18 years. This allowed individuals within ASPSA to use these courses through special arrangements to maintain the eligibility of academically at-risk student-athletes, particularly in the sports of football, men's basketball and women's basketball. Although the general student body also had access to the anomalous AFRI/AFAM courses, student-athletes received preferential access to these anomalous courses, enrolled in these anomalous courses at a disproportionate rate to that of the general student body and received other impermissible benefits not available to the general student body in connection with these courses (NOA, pp. 48-49).

Though disconcerting, that statement is easily rebutted on multiple accounts. First, as I already explained, the extent to which those arrangements were special is debatable, as is the extent to which athletes’ access to the paper classes was “preferential.” Consider the fact, confirmed in the Wainstein Report’s exhibits, that Nyang'oro and Crowder offered more paper classes with only non-athletes enrolled (20) than paper classes with only athletes enrolled (18), and that an additional six paper classes had only non-athletes and Olympic sport athletes enrolled (meaning no football or men’s basketball players). Furthermore, statistics from the first paper classes do not suggest they were originally designed to give preferential treatment to athletes. The first four paper classes had two men’s basketball players enrolled, four football players, five women’s basketball players, and 46 non-athletes. If Crowder had created the paper classes specifically for athletes, those statistics would undoubtedly look much different.

Additionally, the above statement from the NOA includes the oft-repeated, racially dismissive notion that athletes’ disproportionate enrollment in the paper classes indicates some level of impropriety. N&O reporter Dan Kane consistently mentions athletes’ disproportionate enrollment, but the argument is intellectually dishonest. Jewish students are often disproportionately enrolled in Jewish Studies classes. Women are often disproportionately enrolled in Women’s Studies classes. African Americans are often disproportionately enrolled in African American Studies classes. The UNC student body is only about 10% African American, but over 50% of the football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball teams are African American. We should expect a sub-population of students who are disproportionately African American to disproportionately enroll in African American Studies classes. Any argument that ignores that reality is nothing but a spurious attempt to sensationalize the narrative and thereby falsely depict the UNC case as an example of Athletics corruption.


No evidence suggests that the Athletics department created or compelled the paper classes. That is why the NCAA can neither designate the paper classes themselves as impermissible benefits nor accuse Athletics or ASPSA of colluding in an academic fraud scheme. The paper classes were available to the entire student body. Crowder and Nyang’oro offered more paper classes with only non-athletes enrolled than paper classes with only athletes enrolled. Again, no evidence suggests Crowder and Nyang’oro created the classes specifically for athletes.

The scandal at UNC involved a complacent College of Arts & Sciences and academic counselors who provided too much assistance to (acting "on behalf of") athletes enrolling and enrolled in classes that were available to the entire student body regardless. Call the UNC case an athletics scandal, but it is not an athletics-driven scandal.

CNN correspondent Sara Ganim (echoing the position of radicals from the Drake Group) wants us to believe the UNC case is “hands down, the largest academic fraud scandal in the history of college sports!” If the complacency of Arts & Sciences and the overgenerous assistance of academic counselors constitute the largest academic fraud scandal in the history of college sports, then college sports does not appear to be in as much need of reform as critics insist.

*The debate between Smith and the AFAM professor continued in this email, in which the AFAM professor effectively highlights the implicit racism of Smith’s campaign.

Monday, May 25, 2015

UNC Should Discipline Jay Smith

Imagine the following scenario:

An advisor at UNC develops a grudge against the Journalism school. To retaliate, she devises some embellished anecdotes about the school to share with the local newspaper. Although she presents no evidence to verify her anecdotes, the newspaper prints her story, and the subsequent fame inflates this ostensible whistleblower’s sense of self-importance. She then shares fabricated research findings on journalism students’ ACT/SAT scores with CNN. A History professor who likewise has a grudge against the Journalism school joins the disgruntled advisor’s crusade, and they write a book together. In their book, they share their findings from their research on the grades earned and classes taken by UNC journalism students from the past 25 years. Without the journalism students' consent, the advisor and History professor chose the students for their study from among those working at the Daily Tar Heel (DTH).

Now take a moment to imagine the outrage from the former and current DTH student-journalists if that actually happened.

If you can imagine that outrage—and the accompanying feelings of violation and exploitation—then you can understand the way many former UNC athletes feel about Jay Smith and Mary Willingham since Willingham’s infamous tweet:

Willingham clearly violated the former basketball players’ privacy. As I have written before, FERPA is a law that protects students’ academic records not just from public dissemination but also from being accessed by university personnel who have no educational purpose to view the records. Anyone closely following the controversy at UNC has known about Willingham’s early FERPA violations (revealed in her above tweet and in her statement for the O’Bannon case.) I suspect, however, only those who have read Smith & Willingham’s book, Cheated, know it contains more examples of FERPA violations and unethical research.

For example, consider the table pictured below, from Smith & Willingham’s book:

For their book, Smith & Willingham appear to have gathered data from over two decades’ worth of athletes’ protected academic records. Such research methods go beyond FERPA violations. Research conducted on personal records qualifies as human subjects research. That means Smith & Willingham conducted human subjects research* without approval from the IRB and without obtaining informed consent from the subjects—the former athletes—in their study.

In other words, Jay Smith, a tenured professor, intentionally circumvented the IRB and violated basic research ethics.

This new offense is all the more egregious following Willingham's previous violations of research ethics—on a study for which Smith was a co-investigator.

Of course, for both Willingham's previous research and for Smith & Willingham's new research in their book, Smith believes he and Willingham are justified because their cause is good. He is right that college-athletics reform is a good cause. On many of the issues related to college athletics, I actually agree with Smith & Willingham. Yet he is still profoundly wrong about his and Willingham’s research. Exploiting former UNC athletes—without their consent—for the purported benefit of future college athletes is not justified. Since the federal government passed the National Research Act of 1974, researchers can no longer decide on their own whether the benefits of their research outweigh the potential harm to the subjects. Researchers are now ethically and legally obligated to inform subjects about potential harm—including emotional harm that could result from the researchers’ publicizing the findings—and to obtain consent from subjects. Again, however, Smith & Willingham did not inform the former athletes about the research or obtain consent to conduct the research.

Smith & Willingham also believe they are justified because they are ostensibly functioning as whistleblowers. However, they—and their supporters—fundamentally misunderstand the relation between whistleblowers and private documents. Edward Snowden gathered and disseminated official government documents and communications between governmental administrators, showing that the government spies on innocent private citizens. He did not himself spy on innocent private citizens and then release information thereby gathered. A whistleblower does not violate the privacy of the very people for whom he or she claims to be advocating. Yet that is exactly what Smith & Willingham have done. Contrary to their distorted self-portrayals, Smith & Willingham are more comparable to the Sony hackers than to Edward Snowden.

Many have lauded Smith & Willingham for their work. I, however, do not judge a person by the cause for which he or she advocates. I judge a person by the tactics he or she uses to advocate for their cause. By that standard, Jay Smith and Mary Willingham are not good people.

The UNC Policy Manual states that a tenured faculty member may be disciplined for

misconduct of such a nature as to indicate that the individual is unfit to continue as a member of the faculty, including violations of professional ethics, mistreatment of students or other employees, research misconduct, financial fraud, criminal, or other illegal, inappropriate or unethical conduct. To justify serious disciplinary action, such misconduct should be either (i) sufficiently related to a faculty member’s academic responsibilities as to disqualify the individual from effective performance of university duties, or (ii) sufficiently serious as to adversely reflect on the individual’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to be a faculty member.

Smith's violating former athletes' privacy and conducting human subjects research without IRB approval clearly meets the standard for disciplinary action. UNC should therefore discipline Jay Smith immediately.

*Smith may argue that the research in their book does not technically qualify as research because it was not designed to contribute to generalizable knowledge. Such an argument, I believe, would be specious. Smith & Willingham's campaign is based on the premise that college "profit-sport" athletes—in general—do not get a "real education." Smith & Willingham have written their book as a case study that illustrates what they perceive as the general corruption of college athletics, thereby contributing to society's generalizable knowledge of the college athlete experience. 

Regardless, Smith knows that the IRB, not the researcher, decides whether a study qualifies as research, and he and Willingham intentionally circumvented the IRB to conduct their research on former athletes' academic records. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Jay Smith and Public Records

Jay Smith recently made a public records request for communications between Chemistry professor Cynthia Schauer and me. I suspect he wants to know whether I prompted her or helped her write the "Move UNC Forward" letter she initiated. If he had just asked, I would have told him that I had nothing to do with the letter other than lauding it after it was published. The first time I met Dr. Schauer in person, last December, we discussed the general controversies at UNC, and the one other time we met, a few months later, she told me she was working on something but did not tell me what it was. Of course, I was pleased when she published the letter, and I was thrilled over the response. More than 100 faculty members signed the letter, demonstrating that reason and integrity are still the defining characteristics of UNC's professors, despite the vitriol and intellectual dishonesty spewing from the handful of faculty members comprising Smith's (Anti-) Athletics Reform Group. 

Regardless, I will save Smith the trouble of waiting for the public records office to fulfill his request. Below is the text from all the emails between Dr. Schauer and me:

From: Bethel, Bradley Richard
Sent: Tuesday, November 11, 2014 7:53 AM
To: Schauer, Cindy
Subject: Thank You 
Dr. Schauer, 
Thank you very much for writing your letter to the editor, published in today’s DTH. We in academic support have experienced unfair scrutiny after the Wainstein Report misrepresented some of our colleagues as having known more about the paper class scandal than they actually did. As you indicated in your letter, much of the felt scrutiny has come from the “divisive pontifications” of faculty members from the (Anti-) Athletics Reform Group, and so we are very grateful when other faculty members challenge their bluster.  
Thank you again, and have a great week. 
Bradley R. H. Bethel | Reading and Writing Specialist
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes 

From: Schauer, Cindy
Sent: Tuesday, November 11, 2014 8:17 PM
To: Bethel, Bradley Richard
Subject: RE: Thank You 
Thanks Bradley.  I feel like the majority has been too silent. 

From: Schauer, Cindy
Sent: Friday, December 05, 2014 10:54 AM
To: Bethel, Bradley Richard
Subject: Coffee 
Hi Bradley:  I’d like to buy you a cup of coffee sometime. I have a couple of things I’d like to chat about. Let me know what time next week might work for you.  Genome sciences cafĂ© might be a convenient location.  Cindy 
From: Bethel, Bradley Richard
Sent: Friday, December 05, 2014 4:44 PM
To: Schauer, Cindy
Subject: RE: Coffee 
Cindy, that sounds great. I am free Wednesday morning until 10 AM and any time Thursday. If those times don’t work for you, I can find a time another day. I look forward to chatting. 
Bradley R. H. Bethel | Reading and Writing Specialist
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes 
From: Schauer, Cindy
Sent: Friday, December 05, 2014 5:09 PM
To: Bethel, Bradley Richard
Subject: RE: Coffee 
Hi Bradley:  I’m free before 10:00 am on Wednesday too.  I’m not sure what time your day begins, but perhaps we could start it with coffee at the Genome Sciences Cafe.  It can’t be too early for me, but they open at 7:30 am.  Let me know what time works for you.  I look forward to meeting you. Cindy 
From: Bethel, Bradley Richard
Sent: Monday, December 08, 2014 9:16 AM
To: Schauer, Cindy
Subject: RE: Coffee 
Cindy, will 8:30 work for you? 
Bradley R. H. Bethel | Reading and Writing Specialist
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes
That works!

Now that I have released the emails Smith wants, perhaps he will return the favor. Since last July, I have been waiting for the public records office to fulfill several requests I made (through attorneys) for communications between Smith and a number of other UNC employees.

I repeat: I have been waiting since last July.

Will Smith expedite the process, as I have, and release the records on his own? I will not even ask that he release all of them. For now, I am primarily interested in his email exchanges with Mary Willingham from June 30, 2012, to June 30, 2014. What better way for Smith to demonstrate his commitment to transparency than to release those emails on his own?

In the meantime, I cannot help feeling troubled by the public records office's delay in releasing the records I have requested. I waited patiently for those records while Willingham's lawsuit was ongoing, assuming UNC needed the emails between her and Smith for the case. However, the lawsuit was settled two months ago. I see no reason for further delay. Delay now only serves to protect Smith, whose primary contribution to UNC the past two years has been to defame the Athletics department and individuals associated with it. Why would the University protect him?

UNC should release the records—all of them.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Rooting for Mayweather No Longer

I am an educator who played sports in high school and enjoys watching sports, but, otherwise, I have a very limited interest in sports news (probably because my favorite sport, wrestling, generates little news). The first time I knew the name of a highly recruited high school athlete was last week, after seeing several tweets about Brandon Ingram's committing to Duke instead of UNC. I recall last night hearing someone's saying that the Cavs are playing the Bulls in the playoffs, but I could not name any other team playing. Nor could I tell you the names of any of the first-round NFL picks last week except for Todd Gurley, whose name I only know because he was involved in a minor scandal. He played for Georgia, right?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Lesson in Editing Responsibly

Yesterday a guest blogger published an entry in which he argued that university policies allow for professors to designate grading proxies to grade papers and that such policies would therefore have permitted Deborah Crowder to grade Julius Nyang'oro's papers. Within a half-hour, an expert in higher education noted that standard policies only allow for proxies to enter grades, not actually to do the grading. I immediately added an editor's update with that information. However, I have now decided to remove the blog entry entirely.

The Truth Is In the Annual Reports: Mary Willingham's Self-Contradictions

A year ago today, I published "Truth and Literacy at UNC," my first essay challenging Mary Willingham's false claims about UNC athletes. Documents recently released in response to a public records request further demonstrate that Willingham has embellished and fabricated much of her narrative about UNC athletics.

On January 8, 2014, CNN's Sara Ganim featured Mary Willingham in a sensationalized story about college athletes' reading levels. Before accepting her gig at CNN, Ganim was a reporter at The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA), where she won a Pulitzer for her reporting on the Jerry Sandusky scandal. By portraying Willingham as a stalwart whistleblower, Ganim strategically framed her story as another exposĂ© on the corruption within college athletics. She seemed—and has continued to seem—eager to win another Pulitzer.

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.