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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.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Emails Reveal Disputes Between Jay Smith and Other Faculty Members

Jay Smith's intellectual dishonesty began silently, when the debate over Mary Willingham's "research" was occurring.* However, especially since the Wainstein Report was released, his deviousness has become shrill and persistent, fomenting the media's sensationalism.

As the acting leader of the (Anti-) Athletics Reform Group, Smith's fundamental assertion regarding the paper-class scandal has been that "the demand for fraud in this case clearly came from 'the athletic side' of the campus" and was "set up" by Athletics. Yet that is not clear at all. Not even Wainstein's personal impressions support Smith's assertion. Wainstein surmised, "While Crowder cited compassion as her primary driver, there is no question that her strong love for and identification with the sports program contributed to her willingness to offer paper classes that were disproportionately taken by student-athletes" (p. 44). The key word is "contributed," which is not the same as induced or instigated or triggered. Wainstein quoted Crowder herself saying that she was "passionate about helping struggling students of all kinds," including single mothers (p. 14). The truth is that if UNC had not admitted underprepared student-athletes, Crowder still would have created the paper classes for other struggling students, and we probably would have never learned about those paper classes.