Thursday, March 3, 2016

I Rest My Case

I intend for this to be my last entry on this blog. After two years of blogging and making a documentary film, I have said all that I can say to counter the media's sensationalism and inaccuracies. The critics will remain in the media and on social media, and they will not see reason. None of them were willing to engage in a face-to-face debate, and so I am done trying to engage them, and I will be refraining from even bringing up the issues on Twitter. If you are reading this, you probably know the critics I'm talking about. I suggest you likewise disregard them.

After my film screens at festivals this spring, I will release it online and on DVD/Blu-ray this summer, and so I will continue to promote its message. As I often say when discussing the film, I believe the approach I took with it will be much more effective than the approach I've taken here and on Twitter. My film is more about telling other people's side of the story than combating critics. Reassuringly, the response to my film has been overwhelmingly positive, and I want to focus more on that positivity. Furthermore, I need to spend more time with my family and pursuing my true interests—indie film, language, literature, and Southern music.

To summarize this blog: The AFAM paper-class scandal was not an athletics-driven scandal. It was the result of a department chair's and his assistant's misguided efforts to help struggling students, and it was allowed to persist because of the deans' negligence. The academic counselors for athletes learned about the paper classes but had assurance from multiple deans that the department chair had the autonomy to conduct the classes in whatever manner he chose. Yet the counselors have received considerable blame, being scapegoated to protect the deans. Nyang'oro and Crowder were able to conduct some form of the paper-classes for nearly two decades without any deans addressing their substandard quality. Accordingly, this scandal should have demonstrated the neglect prestigious research universities show toward teaching undergraduates. However, the media saw a sexier story in an athletics scandal, and the University was content to allow that narrative to develop. As a result, good people have been hurt. Fortunately, most of those good people have been able to move on. That's what I hope to do, too.

Thanks to all those who have supported me. Please follow my film's Facebook page for updates on screenings. The film will be playing in Wilmington in a couple weeks at the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival, and it will play elsewhere in NC soon thereafter. I've met so many wonderful alum over the past two years, and I hope to spend more time with you over the coming years. I'll be at occasional football games, a basketball game every once in a while, and most of the wrestling matches. Otherwise, you'll often find me at Weaver Street Market or elsewhere in Carrboro, spending time with friends and family.

Thanks again for all your support!
Though the storms of life assail us
Still our hearts beat true
Naught can break the friendships formed at
Dear old N.C.U.

Letter From Wainstein Contradicts Report

Butch Davis was UNC's first scapegoat in the AFAM paper-class scandal.

Davis began coaching at UNC in 2006 and was fired in the summer of 2011, soon after suspicions about Julius Nyang'oro's classes surfaced. UNC's first investigation, conducted the following year by two A&S senior-level deans, was limited, without good reason, to the years 2007 – 2011.

During my interview with Davis for my documentary, he explained, "It was like everybody wanted it to just be about my tenure. It was just going to be about football. Maybe at the end, we can tie this up in a nice little bow, and it will be, we’ll fire the head coach, we’ll blame it all on the football program, we’ll kick it to the curb, and we’ll be able to move on."

Davis's firing and that first investigation reveal much about UNC's priorities, though few have been perceptive enough to see that. What UNC's most strident critics fail to understand about the University is that its academic prestige, reflected by its status as a Top 5 public university, is far more important than its national championships in sports. Even more important, on a practical level, is the school's accreditation. A school can persist after losing its championships: it cannot persist after losing its accreditation.

Thus, over the past five years of investigations and reforms and firings, UNC has been concerned first and foremost with protecting its academic prestige and its accreditation. The first strategy was to appoint two senior-level deans to conduct an investigation into a department within their own college and limited to the years of the fired football coach. If the UNC chancellor at the time had been serious about investigating the problem, he would have appointed deans from outside A&S and not restricted the years of the investigation. However, in an effort to deflect attention away from the A&S administration, UNC seemed to believe they could simply implicate Davis, if only indirectly, and then move on. Of course, that did not work.

Even the subsequent, now infamous, Martin Report, which critics have decried as an athletics whitewash, actually shielded the A&S deans from the scrutiny they deserved. Although Martin declared the scandal academic rather than athletic, his judgement was generic: he never pointed a finger at the particular deans who, we later learned, knew about the paper classes but did nothing about them. As a former academic himself, Martin seemed unwilling to censure those who could have been his peers.

The final investigation, conducted by Kenneth Wainstein, is a brilliant work of scapegoating. Although Wainstein did reveal that at least four deans knew about the paper classes, his report glosses over their knowledge and actions to emphasize the alleged culpability of low-level academic counselors for athletes. Wainstein's "factual narrative" even leaves out Senior Associate Dean Bobbie Owen's admission that an athletics official expressed concerns to her about the paper classes and that she replied to him that the issue was one of faculty autonomy. That admission is buried in what is essentially the report's notes (p. 104). In addition, Wainstein's report never even mentions that Fred Clark was not just an associate dean but the associate dean to whom the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes directly reported. Like Owen, Clark, an otherwise model educator, asserted that the paper classes were a matter of Nyang'oro's autonomy as a faculty member (p. 107). The academic counselors received that message of faculty autonomy, which is exactly why they did not question the paper classes further.

Yet Wainstein, whom the University paid $3.1 million, shrewdly depicts the academic counselors as complicit with Nyang'oro and his assistant Deborah Crowder, allowing the University to treat the scandal as if it were the result of a few low-level individuals associated with athletics rather than a systemic, administrative problem requiring extensive academic reform.

Before I go on, I want to be clear: I do not believe there was a conspiracy between UNC and Wainstein. A conspiracy was unnecessary. Wainstein is a powerful man, and the powerful have an unspoken agreement among themselves to blame the powerless. Wainstein composed his report to do just that and thereby attract future contracts from powerful institutions that can likewise afford to pay him millions of dollars to write similar reports that scapegoat the powerless.

Despite Wainstein's fastidiousness in crafting his narrative, his report has subtle, though profound, flaws. Thanks to Butch Davis's attorney, Wainstein himself has exposed the most significant flaw.

In his report, Wainstein essentially alleges that, whereas the deans only knew that the paper classes did not require attendance, the academic counselors further knew that Crowder was managing the classes without Nyang'oro's involvement. Wainstein's primary evidence against two of the academic counselors is an alleged email and a now infamous slide from a PowerPoint presentation they gave to Butch Davis's coaching staff. That slide reveals that students in the paper classes did not have to attend class, take notes, meet with professors, or pay attention. Instead, the slide reveals (though the media has ignored this fact), students had to write a 20 – 25 page paper.

Again, that slide and an alleged email are Wainstein's primary pieces of evidence that two of the academic counselors knew Crowder was managing the classes without Nyang'oro's involvement. Wainstein writes,

Their slide presentation to the football coaching staff in November 2009 and their email urging players to submit their papers before Crowder’s retirement – “Debbie Crowder is retiring . . . if you would prefer that she read and grade your paper rather than Professor Nyang’oro you will need to have the paper completed before the last day of classes, Tuesday, July 21st” – is clearly evidence of their full knowledge about these classes (p. 64).
Wainstein also cites that slide to suggest that Butch Davis had some knowledge of the paper classes. Davis and his attorney, however, do not agree, and they let Wainstein know in a letter. (I highly recommend reading the letter in its entirety here.) Wainstein's response is what is most important for this blog entry. In a letter to Davis's attorney, Wainstein writes,
While there was evidence that Coach Davis was made aware of the particularly low academic expectations in the AFAM seminar classes that were described in the November 2009 ASPSA PowerPoint presentation to the football coaches, the presentation did not address the absence of faculty involvement in the classes or the fact that the papers were assigned and graded by an office administrator.
That sentence directly contradicts his report. In his report, Wainstein states that the PowerPoint slide "is clearly evidence of their full knowledge about these classes." Yet in his letter, Wainstein writes that the slide "did not address the absence of faculty involvement in the classes or the fact that the papers were assigned and graded by an office administrator."

The significance of that contradiction cannot be overstated. Wainstein's letter completely nullifies one of his two primary pieces of evidence against the academic counselors. Indeed, that PowerPoint slide, as bad as it may appear, does not indicate that anyone knew Crowder was grading the papers on her own.

So what of the other piece of evidence?

The other piece Wainstein cites in his report is an alleged email from the counselors saying, “Debbie Crowder is retiring . . . if you would prefer that she read and grade your paper rather than Professor Nyang’oro you will need to have the paper completed before the last day of classes, Tuesday, July 21st.” Here is the problem: that statement is not actually from an email. It was not even written by the two counselors in question. It was part of a flyer written by a tutor, and that tutor, even Wainstein acknowledges, was unaware Crowder was not a faculty member (p. 118).

Thus, Wainstein's primary evidence against the two counselors who were my closest colleagues is null. Wainstein's evidence does not demonstrate that they were "aware of every irregular aspect of these paper classes.”

Elsewhere in his report, Wainstein cites another email from academic counselor Cynthia Reynolds:
In one email to a football operations coordinator, André Williams, during the second summer session of 2009, Cynthia Reynolds, the Associate Director for ASPSA and Director of Football, wrote that “Ms. Crowder is retiring at the end of July . . . if the guys papers are not in . . . I would expect D’s or C’s at best. Most need better than that . . . ALL WORK FROM THE AFAM DEPT. MUST BE DONE AND TURNED IN ON THE LAST DAY OF CLASS.” As reflected in that email, the football counselors were painfully aware that many of their charges would not get the grades they “need” to remain eligible if someone other than Crowder graded their papers (pp. 21 – 22).
Note the last sentence. Somehow Wainstein reasons that an email sent from one academic counselor is evidence of what multiple counselors knew. Frankly, that reasoning defies logic, and that is all I need to say about that.

The two other academic counselors have emphatically insisted they did not know Crowder was managing the classes without Nyang'oro's involvement. In addition, they had received the message from the deans that Nyang'oro had the autonomy to conduct the classes however he saw fit. Therefore, again, contrary to Wainstein's allegation, the counselors were not "aware of every irregular aspect of these paper classes.”

The remaining question is whether Reynolds knew Crowder was managing the classes on her own. I have not talked with Reynolds, and so I cannot answer that with certainty. Nevertheless, consider the case of academic counselor Wayne Walden, whom Wainstein also accuses of being fully complicit. Walden acknowledged that he knew Crowder did some of the grading; however, Wainstein did not report everything Walden told him. Wainstein left out Walden's testimony that he believed Crowder was some kind of approved teaching assistant. That is why Walden did not question Crowder's grading. I suspect the same was true of Reynolds.

When all the facts are considered, neither Walden nor the two academic counselors with whom I worked can fairly be accused of collusion, and I suspect the same is true of Reynolds. That leaves Jan Boxill, but I hope to give her an opportunity to speak for herself soon.

Regardless, if not for the most egregious flaw in Wainstein's investigation, we would not still be talking about all this. Wainstein, who, again, was paid $3.1 million, chose not to record his interviews. In every other investigative scenario I am aware of, recording the interviews is standard procedure. Without recording, no transcripts could be produced in Wainstein's investigation, thus allowing him to report or exclude whatever he wanted. He even told one former academic counselor that he would be writing his "impressions." Apparently, impressions are what $3.1 million buys you.

There are other flaws in Wainstein's report, but they are less critical to undermining his narrative. Most important to understand about the Wainstein Report is that Wainstein chose not to record his interviews, which allowed him to present a skewed narrative that scapegoated low-level academic counselors and has biased the University's and the public's interpretation of the evidence.

Critics have interpreted the University's handling of the scandal backwards. UNC has been trying to protect the deans more than its championship banners. Butch Davis was the first scapegoat, and, though he did collect a sizable paycheck, he will likely never again be able to do what he loves. The academic counselors who were fired made less than $40,000 per year and have been forced to find new careers. Meanwhile, the deans continue to enjoy their upper middle-class lifestyles and careers and have taken no responsibility for their negligence.

Although I am no fan of the NCAA, I believe they are conducting a more objective investigation into the paper classes than Wainstein did. That is why I expect their final ruling will not be as damning as critics hope.

In conclusion, consider the words of Malcolm Gladwell from the Bill Simmons podcast. Although Gladwell said the following about the report on the New England Patriots' deflated footballs scandal, I believe these words equally apply to the Wainstein Report:
[That] Report, such as it was, was a piece of astonishing garbage. I mean, just because a report is produced at great cost by a fancy-sounding law firm and a lawyer with a long reputation does not mean it clarifies the issues or represents an intelligent and thoughtful analysis of the issues. That report was just bullshit.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Butch Davis for interviewing with me and for sharing a number of documents. I will include extended interview scenes with him in the bonus features of my film's DVD/Blu-ray.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Dispelling the Ludicrous Conspiracy Theory About ADHD/LD Diagnoses at UNC

I am not going to waste much time on this blog entry, because the issue I'm addressing is indeed nothing but a ludicrous conspiracy theory generated by the crazed ABC crowd.

That crowd's new hero, BlueDevilicious (whose real name is Ted Tatos), has been obsessively tweeting highlighted portions of emails that are being released in an ongoing, massive document dump from UNC. From these emails, he has discovered that an abnormally high percentage of UNC athletes were diagnosed with ADHD and/or learning disabilities (LD). He also discovered an email thread from independent physicians stating that the methods used for diagnosing ADHD/LD were inadequate.

The conspiracy theory that has thus emerged from BlueDevilicious's monomaniacal tweeting is that UNC overdiagnosed athletes in order to secure for them academic accommodations that would give them an advantage in the classroom.

This conspiracy theory is so ludicrous I'm annoyed that I'm even addressing it.

Yes, the rates of diagnoses were alarmingly high. Yes, the methods of diagnosis were in some ways inadequate. Is that evidence of a scandal?

Absolutely not.

Two facts, which BlueDevilicious and his groupies conveniently overlook, undermine his entire campaign: (1) No one from UNC was doing the diagnosing. (2) The independent psychologist who was doing the majority of the diagnosing throughout the 2000s was none other than Mary Willingham's research partner.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Oh, and while you are, also keep in mind that the assessments leading to those high rates of diagnoses were the basis of the data from which Willingham made her CNN-famous claims about athletes' reading levels.

Therefore, ironically, when BlueDevilicious cites the emails from the independent physicians who criticize the methods Willingham's partner used to diagnose athletes, he is providing further reason to doubt Willingham's claims.

Some history will help clarify the situation even more. Considering the fact that many DI football (FB) and basketball (BB) players come from urban schools, with few resources, and low socioeconomic backgrounds, UNC, like most other DI schools, has new FB and BB players assessed for potential academic difficulties soon after they arrive on campus. Sometime around the early 2000s, UNC began contracting Lyn Johnson, Willingham's eventual research partner, to conduct those assessments. Johnson conducted her assessments completely independently. She did not even communicate with coaches or athletics officials. Academic counselors and learning specialists coordinated the assessments with her. UNC continued to contract Johnson because she and Willingham were conducting their research together, and UNC trusted Willingham at that time.

Not long after I arrived in 2011, I began having concerns about the rates of ADHD/LD diagnoses. One of my research interests is the linguistic patterns of African American youth, and research suggests that some African American youth are diagnosed with learning disabilities when the issue is actually just a matter of linguistic difference. I began advocating to use a new psychologist, one who was more familiar with the challenges of assessing African American students of low socioeconomic status.

Eventually, we stopped contracting Johnson, after we had concerns that she and Willingham had not conducted their research properly. Yet before we switched psychologists, we sought the input of outside experts, the independent physicians BlueDevilicious cites. I want to repeat that: seeking the outside opinions of those physicians was our idea. And they confirmed what I had suspected, that the methods Johnson was using were in some ways inadequate.

Again, no one had questioned Johnson, because she was conducting research with Willingham, and people trusted the two of them at that time.

To be clear, I am not accusing Johnson of intentionally inflating the numbers. I believe she simply wasn't familiar with the latest research on assessing diverse students.

BlueDevilicious also likes to point to some spreadsheets that list student-athletes and have checkboxes for ADHD medication. He believes this is evidence that a high number of athletes were taking ADHD medication. What he doesn't know is that those checkboxes meant only that the psychologist recommended the student-athlete discuss medication with a physician. Those checkboxes did not indicate who was actually taking medication. In fact, most of the athletes I worked with didn't take medication even when the psychologist recommended it. Most of them either tried the medication and didn't like the effect, or they declined to try because they worried about the effect.

Furthermore, the other academic accommodations that students diagnosed with ADHD/LD receive do not provide much advantage without the students doing considerable work. The primary accommodation is a notetaker. But if a student is not active in class and taking their own notes, simply looking over someone else's notes will not suffice to learn the material and pass the exams. Similarly, if a student gets extra time on exams but does not study, that extra time does little good.

In sum: UNC was not behind the high rates of ADHD/LD diagnoses. The person behind those rates was Willingham's research partner, conducting her assessments independently. When UNC learned that the psychologists' methods were, to an extent, inadequate, UNC stopped working with her. Furthermore, the accommodations that students diagnosed with ADHD/LD receive do not provide any unfair advantages anyway.

I've talked with three journalists who were interested in doing a story based on BlueDevilicious's tweets, but, after talking with me, they began to question BlueDevilicious's conspiracy theory. He and his followers are fanatics who make invalid inferences from incomplete information. Their conspiracy theory is ludicrous, and no journalist acting with integrity is going to present it as legitimate.

Again, I am annoyed I even addressed this buffoon BlueDevilcious, and I hope this will be the last time I do. I suggest reasonable people ignore him.

Update: There are two points I forgot to mention that further explain why no one at UNC was especially concerned about the high rates of diagnoses. First, research suggests that students of low socioeconomic status (SES) are diagnosed at a higher rate than the general population is. Therefore, considering that the percentage of FB and BB players who come from low SES backgrounds is significantly higher than among the general student body, we should expect the rates of diagnoses to be higher, too. The second point to consider, which BlueDevilicious conveniently ignores in his "probability" analysis, is that 100% of the FB and BB players were assessed, whereas nowhere near 100% of the general population is assessed. Therefore, again, we should not be surprised that the rates were higher. In other words, we should expect a subpopulation assessed at 100% to have higher rates of diagnoses than the general population. In conclusion, although the rates of diagnoses were high, there were legitimate reasons to expect the rates to be high.

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 cliché 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.