The International Writers Magazine:University of North Carolina Scandal
Seeming Rather Than Being
We’ve been living for six years now with the massive and destructive academics and athletics scandal at the University of North Carolina (UNC), located in the town of Chapel Hill, state of North Carolina, USA.
And I’m as tired of it as anybody else, though it’s the university’s own fault that the scandal has dragged on this long. Unlike the actions of her careerist predecessor, Chancellor Folt needs to fire all the lawyers and PR experts who’ve acted as svengalis in the seemingly endless effort to try and massage things with the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) and with the university’s accrediting agency, SACS. Stop spending millions that should be helping students but instead are being used to create documents that amount to highly professional, highly skilled exorbitant lies. This disgraceful charade is just blighting UNC more and more.
Here’s a recent quote from UNC’s online alumni newsletter, Out of the Blue:
"Our family has 25 years logged in as students at Carolina and have felt such pride in our state University for our lifetime. This entire episode in the history of the University is shaming. The fact that it went on for 18 years – 18 years of collusion, lack of oversight and moral integrity, secrecy, and failure to preserve our school’s honor – is totally despicable and deserving of firing and/or severe punishment for anyone who had direct involvement, or knew and did nothing".
The svengali charade reminds me of the state of North Carolina's motto, “Esse Quam Videri", Latin for "To Be Rather Than To Seem". But I'm reminded of this because our state's flagship public university, my alma mater, has behaved the last six years in the exact opposite way. With all the lawyering and PR deception that has come out of UNC, maybe its motto should be changed from the current “Lux et Libertas” to “Videri Quam Esse”: To Seem Rather Than To Be.
UNC has been harping about the need to move forward and put this scandal behind it. But you can't move forward into the future until in the present you've come clean about your past. And coming clean doesn't mean hiring high-priced lawyers and PR experts to make the university seem like its past wasn't all that bad and that now it's doing great. It has acted disgracefully, and made things much worse by having the previous chancellor try to cover up the disgrace – with "an amazing display of evasiveness and dishonesty", as is meticulously documented in UNC history professor Jay Smith’s new book, Cheated, praised by The Wall Street Journal among others, a book that almost brought tears to my eyes. That type of behavior has led to SACS putting UNC on probation for an institutional "lack of integrity".
The chancellor, in coordination with "Ethics" professor Jan Boxill, orchestrated the cover-up. But that cover-up, that pack of lies, didn't have to occur. If the chancellor was a true leader and not just a slick manager trying to get his ticket punched by his bosses, this whole hugely damaging episode would have been avoided. I have two daughters at UNC and a third soon to follow. I think about how our alma mater's reputation has suffered and will continue to, and the consequences of that for my daughters' pursuit of their various goals in this ultra-competitive world, where the smallest of margins among candidates vying for something big (plum job, graduate school, internship) can make a big difference.
In addition to the previous chancellor who skipped town scot-free, we must also consider the previous athletic director, who retired scot-free. The News & Observer newspaper (N&O) documented that in 2014 he was the highest paid state employee pensioner, and quoted him as saying that he "earned this money both on the field and in the classroom”. How galling, how brazen can a person be in light of all the dirty details about this scandal? One of the latest again comes from the N&O, which documented high-level involvement in the athletic department regarding the corrupt use of the Graduate School to help athletes stay academically eligible.
An icon of higher education in our state, the late great William Friday would have looked on this deplorable situation and been heartbroken. His deep concern about the corrosive effects of sports on the integrity of higher education is well known, and it’s this part of his legacy that inspired the writing of Cheated.
For years and years UNC has trumpeted another motto, this regarding its sports programs: "The Carolina Way". Of course The Carolina Way is a perfect example of seeming rather than being. And this falseness, this lie, also applies to the NCAA, with its use of the "student-athlete" concept in its marketing – again, the concept seems so wholesome and noble, but much of it is a sham.
And it's not just a Division I revenue-sports problem. The corrupting influence of sports affects Division III schools as well, even the most elite. Whether we're talking about Stanford or Amherst, a sports coach pushing hard for a recruit with lower academic credentials to be admitted to a school has a financial stake in that outcome. The better the athletes he can get for his team, the better his teams do, the better his job performance is judged to be. These coaches aren't working for free: they get a salary, and bonuses and raises for their performance. This national obsession with college sports is unheard of in other countries. In those places, getting admitted to university has absolutely nothing to do with an applicant's athletics. It's a bizarre concept that we, bizarrely, take pride in. And I'm a big athlete myself (5.0 tennis player, fast distance-runner), but I can distance myself from my love of sports and dispassionately see that it's corrupt to have a person's athletic ability often be more important than his academic credentials in getting admitted to the best colleges.
I'm praying that Chancellor Folt completely turns things around and fully restores the reputation of my alma mater ("nourishing mother"), one of the best.
© Duncan Shaw February 20th 2016
duncmshaw at gmail.com