The Shameful Beat Goes On

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What follows is a series of gut-level responses to claims made in the first twenty-three pages of UNC’s official “Response to NCAA Amended Notice of Allegations (ANOA)” of August 1, 2016. Readers’ familiarity with the whole backstory of the UNC vs. NCAA contest is taken for granted, and the university’s responses to specific allegations (pp. 24-73 of the report) are left aside (with one exception) because those specific responses all reflect the broader statement of principles articulated in the first twenty-three pages of the report. What prompts this response to the UNC response to the ANOA is the revulsion triggered by the principles on which UNC has decided to rest its case. The institution’s shameful effort to evade responsibility warrants (at least) one more cry of exasperation, laid out here in ten points.

1) “In August 2011, before the Committee’s October hearing, the University discovered a pattern of serious academic irregularities in what was then known as the Department of African and Afro-American Studies (the Department or AFRI-AFAM). These irregularities resulted from inappropriate behavior, and its concealment, by a small number of people who themselves betrayed the trust of their colleagues and their students.” (p. 2).

The university has always (wrongly, misleadingly) emphasized the allegedly “small number” of people corrupted by our athletic program’s neediness. More important than the exact number of people who committed or condoned unethical acts is the simple fact that the “betrayal” at the heart of the wrongdoing was clearly an institutional betrayal–one whose symptoms are still clearly discernible well beyond the scapegoated AFAM department and which continues to this very day in the form of administrative denial. Mary Willingham and I have documented (as did the Cadwalader report, through its supplementary materials) the unethical and/or highly questionable activities of people all across the university during the scandal years. Yet the university persists in claiming that the corruption was small-scale and limited in nature. There’s a word for this. Shameful.

2) “In 1992, Dr. Julius Nyang’oro became the chair of the Department. A respected scholar, Nyang’oro proved to be a deeply flawed department chair. He provided limited and ineffective oversight of the Department’s day-to-day operations, and his attention to administrative duties eroded over the years as he spent less time on campus. As his Department grew, Nyang’oro often neglected the responsibilities expected of the chair of a new and expanding academic department” (p. 3).

This is an embarrassing administrative copout. Julius Nyang’oro “spent less time on campus” because a series of deans facilitated his absenteeism, even as they kept reappointing him, congratulating him, and awarding him his annual raises. Every dean and senior associate dean to whom Nyang’oro reported between 1992 and 2011 (Stephen Birdsall, Richard Soloway, Risa Palm, Bernadette Gray-Little, Holden Thorp, Arne Kalleberg, Karen Gil, Jonathan Hartlyn) owns some of the responsibility for the deanly negligence that permitted Nyangoro’s own leadership failures. It must be emphasized that some of the principals here, including Birdsall (who shared Nyangoro’s enthusiasm for men’s basketball), Thorp (who looked the other way as long as he could), Gray-Little (who was alerted to the presence of an illiterate football player on our campus in 2006 but refused to do anything about it), as well as Gil and Hartlyn (who ordered or authored inadequate and exculpatory reports of “wrongdoing” in 2011 and 2012) were to varying degrees complicit in the scandal or its cover-up and therefore benefit from the whitewashing performed here and throughout UNC’s long exercise in scandal-mitigation.

3) “Today’s renamed Department of African, African-American and Diaspora Studies is a critical part of the University’s academic mission, providing an essential academic focus on important issues in our nation and one of the fastest-growing regions of the world” (p. 3).

Could the authors of this report be any more patronizing, any more transparent? UNC’s deceptive emphasis on the “important issues” taught and researched by the renamed department of AAAD fools no one. Our leaders are continuing to use this mistreated department as a shield to deflect blame from the institution as a whole. For shame.

4) “As the University participated in the SACSCOC process, it also worked closely with the NCAA. When the irregularities came to light in August 2011, the institution immediately reported its discovery to the NCAA and began a review with the enforcement staff’s full participation. This inquiry resulted in 16 interviews in late August through mid-September 2011 of student-athletes, Department faculty and staff, and ASPSA employees. In addition to Nyang’oro, who stepped down as Department Chair at the end of August, the interviews included [redacted]. In September 2011, the University began an intensive internal review of the Department’s courses. As that review and subsequent investigations concluded, the University consistently communicated all developments and investigative findings to the NCAA, as well as to SACSCOC. (See Exhibit IN-2.)”  (p. 5).

This is one of the more fascinating statements in the report. What is left unsaid here is that August, 2011 was the month in which the University supposedly learned of the scheduling of a bogus AFAM 280 course for the second summer session of that very year, a course that was arguably the most blatantly fraudulent of all the courses scheduled during the scandal era. This course, added to the class schedule just two days before the beginning of the term, enrolled nineteen students–every one of them a football player, every one of them the beneficiary of a gift grade at the hand of Julius Nyang’oro. Because the fake course was clearly scheduled at the behest of a football academic counselor from the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes, this course alone should have rendered ineligible eighteen players from the 2011 football team, including multiple star players. But when the NCAA published its infractions report in March, 2012, those players were left alone. And the report made no mention of widespread course fraud in the AFAM department. The university is evidently claiming here that it notified the NCAA of the particulars of the AFAM 280 course in August or September of 2011, and it is also claiming–with some justification–that the NCAA had no right, after passing over the evidence of widespread fraud in its infractions report of 2012, to decide in 2014 that this course and others like it warranted further NCAA action. The University asserts that the statute of limitations has run out on this particular manifestation of fraud. (The claim is restated more explicitly in other sections of the UNC response.) This is a clever and possibly even a winning argument. It is also a shameful argument for a great university to make; great universities would want to own the full the extent of their failures and–crucially–make amends for them. UNC, from the beginning of this sordid episode, has made escaping accountability its number one priority. It seems that the athletic department is almost home free.

5) “Under its new leadership team, UNC–Chapel Hill also undertook a comprehensive and University-wide series of more than 70 wide-ranging and extensive reforms and initiatives…”

This statement is as laughable now as when it was first made in 2013. See this commentary on the much heralded “70 reforms.”

6) “The question is whether the matters raised by the ANOA meet the jurisdictional, procedural, and substantive requirements of the NCAA constitution and bylaws.” (p. 7)

With the memory of the NCAA’s Penn State overreach in everyone’s mind, UNC rightly points to the “jurisdictional” and “procedural” limitations that should constrain the NCAA.

The university’s first objection to the NCAA’s Amended Notice of Allegations is that it addresses “core academic issues of course structure, content, and administrative oversight” that are beyond the jurisdiction of the NCAA (p. 8). It is technically true that the NCAA has no right to meddle in a university’s decisions about course structure, course content, or the degree of administrative oversight appropriate in curricular matters. UNC leans on this argument repeatedly throughout its response to the ANOA. In this context, however, the argument offends common sense. When a course’s “structure” is a disguise, when its “content” is literally non-existent, and when the “administrative oversight” guiding a course is deliberately arranged so as to promote fraud, what is at stake is not an institution’s curricular autonomy, as UNC here pretends. What is at stake is the basic integrity of an athletic program that has been nurtured parasitically, and deliberately, by a corrupted academic regime. Any sentient being–even including NCAA investigators–ought to have the right to blow the whistle on egregious violations of “institutional and academic integrity” that have occurred in response to athletic department needs and wants (p. 8). UNC shamefully hides behind a procedural technicality, or the pretense of one, in order to protect its cherished men’s basketball and football programs. A great university would stand above such tactics.

7) “[T]here was nothing to prevent the enforcement staff from seeking and obtaining additional evidence of the conduct that was clearly in front of them in 2010-2011 and is now charged as violations of NCAA bylaws in Allegation I. This could have been done any time before the October 28, 2011 COI hearing, but it was not (p. 16).”

This is indeed true. And by indicting the NCAA for its failure to act on evidence of egregious academic fraud in 2011–evidence that had apparently been put right “in front of them”–UNC helps to indict the entire system of big-time college athletics. This system, as the UNC case demonstrates so clearly, is designed to provide an academic fig leaf that masks the commercial exploitation of thousands of athletes who receive neither monetary compensation nor sound educations for their labors. The maintenance of that fig leaf is the NCAA’s first priority. The fig leaf is useful for rationalizing the million-dollar salaries of the coaches who oversee supposedly “amateur” enterprises; it’s useful for soothing the consciences of screaming fans who prefer to think of college athletes as privileged beings; and it’s useful for deflecting attention away from the reverse wealth redistribution that this perverse system endorses. Every year, in the name of an untainted “collegiate model” of athletics, billions of dollars are siphoned away from the revenue-generating (and mostly poor) athletes who play football and basketball and redirected elsewhere: toward athletic department personnel who are pursuing their own lucrative careers, toward mushrooming facilities and travel budgets, and toward niche “Olympic” sports that provide scholarships for well-to-do white kids and other future-one-percenters. How ironic it is, in light of the gross inequities baked into the “collegiate model,” that UNC dares to cry “no fair!” to a regulatory body that threatens punishment for fraud.

8) The university repeatedly argues that ‘since you let us get away with it before, you have no right to nail us now.’ Here is a prime example of the strategy:

“On March 5, 2013, the then Managing Director of the AMA [Academic and Membership Affairs committee of the NCAA] responded to the [NCAA] enforcement staff in no uncertain terms. He wrote, “There are always concerns with aberrant classes comprised of a significant number of student-athletes in comparison with non-athletes; however, there is nothing definitive in the [Martin] report [provided by the University] that would validate that there was a systematic effort within the African and African American Studies department motivated by the desire to assist student-athletes with maintaining their eligibility, either in how the courses were created, taught and/or how the grades awarded.” (See Exhibit JUR-5.)8 AMA’s conclusion confirmed that the NCAA itself had concluded that the anomalous courses and the other academic irregularities in the Department did not violate NCAA rules” (p. 18.)

Really? Here UNC cites the initial NCAA response to the findings of the infamous Martin report to justify its argument that the NCAA is subjecting UNC to something like double jeopardy–first finding no systemic flaws and subsequently alleging said flaws. What UNC fails to acknowledge, of course, is that the Martin report has been universally condemned as an embarrassing whitewash. So inadequate was the report that the university itself felt compelled to commission the Cadwalader report a year after the Martin report’s release. For having successfully sold the sham Martin report to the NCAA in 2012-13, the university expects–nay, demands–to be granted immunity from the realities subsequently uncovered by other investigators. This is truly shameless.

9) “The membership has adopted a statute of limitations in Bylaw 19.5.11 that restricts the ability of the NCAA to bring allegations pertaining to events that occurred many years earlier” (p. 19.)

Shamelessness, thy name is UNC-Chapel Hill.

10) “Further, Boxill did not engage in “willful”” violations. The term “willful” requires a deliberate or intentional act knowing that it is wrong” (p. 21.)

In response to this tactic–i. e., claiming that former Faculty Chair and sport ethics professor Jan Boxill did not understand that what she was doing was unethical or beyond the rules–I would like to point out, first, that Jan Boxill lied repeatedly about her role in doctoring a faculty report in 2012. I would further like to point out that in her role as Faculty Chair between 2011 and 2014 she obstructed all efforts to generate a no-holds-barred and faculty-sponsored campus discussion about the academic scandal and its connections to the athletic program. According to the law of common sense, one can only conclude that she was so fiercely resistant to sunlight and transparency in her years as Faculty Chair because she did not want revealed the corner-cutting, favoritism, and petty corruption later exposed in her emails written to or on behalf of athletes. (A one-time friend, she told Mary Willingham repeatedly about her fears that her emails would eventually be published.) Boxill knew well, in other words, that what she had done for twenty-plus years as an academic counselor was wrong. She wanted that information kept secret.

And finally:

“The evidence shows that the anomalous courses were available to the general student body” (p. 53).

This is the sole “specific” response that absolutely requires its own response, because this is a fiction that the university has been exploiting for years now. This “generally available” assertion is simply not true. Impolite people might call it a lie. Most students across the campus between 1992 and 2011 never knew a thing about paper classes, nor would they have thought to try to register for one. (At least one did so by accident–and he was appalled by what he found.) Student enrollment in the bogus classes was, in most cases, strictly controlled by Crowder/Nyang’oro. The AFAM 280 course from the second summer session of 2011–the one with 19 students, every one of them a football player–illustrates the logic governing the scheduling of fake classes. The fake–or “paper class”–versions of AFRI/AFAM courses were always scheduled to provide a benefit to favored students, with athletes standing as the most favored of all. Paper classes were NOT scheduled in order to make available to the general student body a menu of absurdly easy courses. The private Swahili language courses that enrolled one or two students, had no meetings, and involved no instruction? Star athletes had such courses scheduled just for them. Does the university seriously want to pretend that these courses were “available to the general student body”? Really? On what basis would they make such a claim? UNC officials reassert this fiction here because they have insisted until they are (Carolina) blue in the face that a specific motive to help athletes was not the driver of the scandal. The problem, however, is that a specific motive to help athletes, and particularly men’s basketball players, was always the driver of the scandal. Course enrollments show it. The Cadwalader report shows it. Cheated shows it. The transcripts show it.

Question: Did anyone ever look at the transcripts? Because, you know, the truth is in the transcripts. Here’s a suggestion. De-identify them and share them (by sport) with the public at large, UNC. Then we can all decide for ourselves what forms of penance you should perform at the conclusion of this ugly story.

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