Provost Dean and his Working Group

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The self-inflicted wounds continue to multiply in Chapel Hill. All around the campus one hears the clarion call, ‘Let us move forward!’ A faculty petition now making the rounds denounces those who would impede this forward progress; it calls on the whole community to “stand by the detailed, transparent approach of the University’s leadership in identifying and acting on the full scope of problems” uncovered by the various reviews conducted over the past few years. It suggests that only naysayers and publicity-mongers could possibly fail to see how openly, honestly, and directly the university’s leaders have attacked the problems divulged by the Wainstein report of October 2014. The petition especially cites the ongoing work of the provost’s “working group,” which has been gathering information about the “athletic-academic” relationship for nearly two years and whose forthcoming “comprehensive analysis” of that relationship was expected to “position us well for the future.”

How ironic, then, that the university’s provost announced at the most recent meeting of the Faculty Council, on April 24, that the “working group” he chaired had decided that transparency can be overrated. He signaled–and not for the first time–that his working group prefers to do its work without too much interference from outsiders (i. e., citizens of the university) and that it has no intention of being held accountable for its assessment of the academic-athletic relationship at UNC. The provost had promised that the group–whose work “is critically important to how we will operate as a University moving forward“–would prepare companion reports to summarize its findings and to explain what reforms to the academic-athletic relationship would be implemented at UNC and why. The release of the working group report had been anticipated throughout the spring, 2015 semester. Some of us had hoped that the working group report would finally provide what no other university official or body had yet provided: a thorough, substantive and analytically rigorous answer to the challenge thrown down by the Wainstein report. But it turns out that there will be no report.

Reports on university campuses invariably generate discussion. And new questions. Their points often require further explanation. Their apparent blind spots or biases sometimes have to be defended by their authors. Reports serve, in other words, as the foundation for dialogue. Sometimes they sharpen disagreements, but when they are done well they become vehicles for consensus building–as was the case with the celebrated Betts report “on Athletics and the University,” which won the virtually unanimous assent of the entire Faculty Council when it was received there in 1990. Good university reports contain powerful ideas and distill important arguments. They help to inform both the intellectual and the institutional life of a university.

But the working group has decided to pass on the opportunity to engage the university community in a potentially cathartic discussion. They will produce no report; instead, the provost has announced, they will create another website. The website will undoubtedly share much information, and it may even convey a point of view. But its authors will be shielded from questions. Any breakdowns in logic, any embarrassing omissions, any tendentiousness will go unchallenged. Unlike the public release of a formal report, which focuses attention, gathers minds, and sometimes attracts the media, the quiet posting of online material will provide no platform for a give-and-take discussion about the lessons to be derived from UNC’s twenty-year experience with academic-athletic corruption. If some have doubts about whether the working group truly managed to address the “full scope of problems” uncovered in recent years, they will need to keep those doubts to themselves. University faculty, students, and staff will be asked to “move forward” in silence, after recognizing the painstaking work of our “leaders.”

Alas, by now this comes as no surprise. Long before announcing that he had decided to substitute a website for a working group report, Provost Jim Dean had already made clear that he was not really very interested in taking questions from the general community. In October 2013, in response to emails in which we urged the university’s leaders to schedule public discussions of the scandal, Dean sidestepped the request by assuring us [see below] that the working group would be carrying out its deliberations at least partly in conjunction with the campus community. “As we work through this,” he promised, “public meetings…will enable discussion of what we come up with.” He pledged that the group would “share publicly what we come up with, and benefit from feedback from the UNC community.” “For now,” he concluded, “all I can ask is that you give us a chance to do our work” and to help make UNC proud of its athletic and academic record once again.

We, the campus community, gave the provost’s working group the chance to do its work. But our feedback was never solicited. No “public meetings” ever occurred. (Deliberations, though subject to the open meetings law, took place in a small conference room that could accommodate only about a half dozen visitors.) No in-person updates involving matters of substance were ever provided–in Faculty Council or anywhere else. And now we learn that no report will marshal the key evidence and articulate the key arguments that reflect lessons learned and the collective wisdom of the working group. Instead we will be referred to a website that will inevitably leave many questions unanswered and many others unasked. The rhetoric of “transparency”–a watchword of the Carol Folt regime–continues to conflict with the reality of obfuscation. If we’re supposed to “move UNC forward,” why do we have to keep reliving Groundhog Day?

 


 

EMAILS

On 10/5/13 10:57 AM, Dean, Jr., James W. wrote:

Dear Jay, Mary, and panelists – Thanks for coming to the session yesterday afternoon.  I thought the questions raised were constructive, and am glad you enjoyed the discussion.  I thought that the panelists’ answers were as thorough and transparent as possible.  Of course these issues are complex, and we were not able in an hour to thoroughly discuss all issues related to the academic careers of student athletes.

In his message below, Jay, and in a separate email, Mary Willingham, raise additional questions.  As you know, we have created a working group that is intended to take a very deep look at the academic lives of student athletes at UNC.  This process has just begun, and we have a great deal of work to do.  As we work through this, we will share our results publicly, and will schedule public meetings that will enable discussion of what we come up with.  I believe that a process-based approach is likely to be much more thorough and comprehensive than organizing our discussion around the Rawlings report.  However, as part of our deliberations, we will look at not only the Rawlings report, but all reports and recommendations that have been made over the past few years.  One of our team members is currently pulling together all of these recommendations, and matching them to the specific process involved (e.g. admissions, advising, etc.).

I recognize that there are deep suspicions among some faculty about these issues.  My plan is that over the next year or so we can take a thorough and uncompromising look, change what needs to be changed, share publicly what we come up with, and benefit from feedback from the UNC community.  I believe that there is broad agreement about what all of us want: a set of practices for student athletes that ensures that they are in every sense students, with the same opportunities for education and success that all of our students enjoy.  Given what has happened over the last few years, I realize that we have a lot of work to do to reinstill trust about all of this in the UNC community.  My understanding of the importance of doing so is why this was the first initiative I undertook as provost.  For now, all I can ask is that you give us a chance to do our work and commit to helping us make UNC once again an institution that is looked up to as a place where big time athletics and academic excellence can coexist.

Best wishes,

Jim Dean

_______________________________

James W. Dean, Jr.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

919.962.2198 @TarHeelProvost

james_dean@unc.edu

 

On 10/5/13 9:57 AM, “Jay Smith” <jaysmith@email.unc.edu> wrote:

 

To all:

I appreciated the discussion yesterday, but I’d just like to point out

the obvious, which is that we only just scratched the surface of the

issues raised by Rawlings. I personally had about a dozen questions for

Steve Farmer that I was not able to ask (partly because I didn’t want to

hog the available time), plus two for the provost and one for Michelle

Brown. I sure would like to have the chance to ask them publicly at some

point. And I’m quite sure that other faculty have questions they’d like

to pursue as well.

I’ve been requesting town hall meetings for a long time, and here I am

again. The ARG has taken the lead in organizing one around the Taylor

Branch documentary on Oct. 24, but we need more focused meetings on

issues such as 1) literacy and curriculum; 2) athletes’ rights; 3)

clustering, graduation rates, and the meaning of academic “success”; 4)

policies and attitudes around gender; 5) the whole ‘committee case’

process, and the need for accountability in that process; 6)

concussions, brain trauma, and long-term health care for athletes; 7)

the scholarship agreement, whether UNC actually honors it and whether it

should be modified; 8) the segregation of athletes from the life of the

University; 9) the purported educational value of sport; 10) the current

revenue model and its sustainability; 11) the

attitudes/assumptions/imperatives that drive academic counselors; and

many more, all of which could be framed within UNC’s effort to respond

thoughtfully to the Rawlings report. I call on you to follow up

yesterday’s opening statement with a coordinated program of public

discussions in the weeks and months ahead.

Sincerely,

Jay Smith

Professor of History

 

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