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.

Wainstein wrote,
On one occasion, [Deborah] Crowder told [Julius Nyang'oro] that the ASPSA academic counselors believed he was “being an ass” for demanding so much from the players and were rethinking whether they should be steering student-athletes to AFAM classes. In light of that push-back from the ASPSA counselors, Crowder took it upon herself to improvise with AFAM’s independent study classes (p. 16).
Missing from that anecdote is any attempt at verification. We do not know whether the anecdote comes from Crowder or from Nyang'oro, nor do we know which counselors were allegedly involved, nor do we have any responses from counselors either affirming or denying the allegation.

Kane, nevertheless, continues to cite that anecdote as the critical plot point in his scandalous narrative. For example, in his latest article, Kane wrote, "Crowder began the classes in 1993 after complaints from counselors in the athletes’ tutoring program about independent studies that were too rigorous." In an earlier article, Kane similarly wrote, "Former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein found that the scheme began after academic counselors for the athletes complained about independent studies that were too demanding."

That anecdote is the cornerstone of the N&O's narrative structure, and Kane treats the anecdote as if it were substantiated evidence. The reality, however, is that that anecdote has less support than the anecdote for which the N&O dismissed the entire Martin Report.

"When he knew, what did he do about it?"

Kane and the N&O's hypocrisy extends further still.

John Drescher, the N&O's executive editor, was the most disparaging of Martin and his report. Drescher wrote
In trying to get to the bottom of a scandal, it’s helpful to ask the basic questions once asked by Sen. Howard Baker: What did he know? When did he know it? I’d pose a third question: When he knew, what did he do about it? 
Martin and Baker Tilly tried to show that the UNC athletic department was pure. Instead, cornered by the facts, they’ve unintentionally shown that athletic department officials suspected academic fraud years ago and did little or nothing about it.
Drescher rephrased that third question in another editorial after UNC announced it had contracted Wainstein to investigate the paper classes. At the time, Drescher believed that no evidence existed to show that athletics officials informed academic officials about the paper classes, and so he made that issue the principal criterion for determining athletics' culpability.

Yet neither Drescher nor any other N&O writer has reported on and discussed the implications of the following from the Wainstein Report:
[Senior Associate Dean] Owen did recall having conversations with [Senior Associate Athletics Director] 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 (p. 104).
Kane has mentioned Owen in numerous articles since the Wainstein Report, but he has conveniently made no reference to her admission that she told Blanchard that the paper classes were a matter of faculty autonomy.**

In other words, when the answer to "When he knew, what did he do about it?" undermined the N&O's narrative, they stopped asking the question.

"The questions that needed to be asked"

After the Wainstein Report, Drescher praised Kane, proclaiming that he "continued to ask the questions that needed to be asked." That is one way of describing Kane's approach. Here is another: Kane asked the questions that would sustain the N&O's narrative, and he stopped asking the questions that challenged their narrative.

The N&O under Drescher's leadership, I believe, values narrative above truth. They have become more a media corporation, less a news organization. The public deserves better.

*Although the anecdote in the Martin Report could not be verified, I believe that it happened. Witness testimony is the primary evidence for and against the anecdote, but all the witnesses have a stake, one way or another, in the anecdote's veracity. In other words, there are no impartial witnesses. I know the witnesses who say the anecdote is true, and I believe them. The N&O chooses to believe the witnesses who say the anecdote is not true. Regardless, as this blog entry demonstrates, Wainstein's finding that Blanchard informed Owen about the paper classes makes the disputed anecdote from the Martin Report much less relevant than previously asserted.

**Note that the finding about Owen comes from Owen herself. It is a telling admission, and yet Wainstein excluded it from his "Factual Narrative," relegating it instead to the interview summary at the end of his report. Narrative, indeed.

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Saturday, November 7, 2015

UNC History Professor Jay Smith Wishes Plane Crash for Provost

Last month UNC released over 200,000 pages of documents related to investigations into the paper-class controversies. Scandal mongers (the N&O and Pack Pride) have been pouring through the pages, desperate for incomplete evidence from which they can make invalid inferences to sustain their sensationalized narrative of athletics corruption at UNC. We are certain to read a new, though mostly recycled, article from Dan Kane any day now.

In the meantime, we may take a moment to consider an email from Jay Smith included in the collection of documents.

On January 29, 2014, Mary Willingham emailed Smith to comment about a trip to California that Provost James Dean was taking.

Smith's response: "Let's hope for a plane crash."

Those six words are as revealing of Jay Smith's true character as any we may encounter: "Let's hope for a plane crash."

Remember, this is the same man who wrote to the Provost to accuse me of being mentally unstable after I exposed his dishonesty. Wishing a person's death, of course, is much worse.

Smith would like us to believe he is a rational, objective scholar motivated primarily by a sense of justice. Yet in reality he is a radical misanthrope motivated by malice. 

There is nothing honorable about Jay Smith, and I can only imagine what other emails between him and Willingham may reveal about themselves and their relationship.

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).

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.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

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 exposé 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.