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Faculty Committee: Should UNC Athletes Be Academically Separate?

A new report of a special subcommittee of UNC’s Faculty Executive Committee makes it clear there are deep concerns in the faculty about how thoroughly athletes — especially those in the revenue-producing sports of basketball and football — participate in the academic life of the University.

In the case of the scandal involving the department of African and Afro-American studies, the study group found more uncertainties than concrete answers to questions about the relationship between former department Chair Julius Nyang’oro and academic advisers to athletes.

“We were told that athletes claimed they had been sent to Julius Nyang’oro by the ASPSA [Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes],” the 13-page report says. “This raises the question of whether they could also have been sent to other departments by Loudermilk counselors.” (The reference is to the Loudermilk Center for Excellence, which houses the academic support program for athletes.)

“It seems likely that someone in the African and Afro-American Studies Department called athletics counselors (who are professionally trained and hired by the College of Arts and Sciences) to tell them that certain courses would be available; it is less clear whether staff at the Loudermilk Center actually contacted departments to <i>ask </i>about the availability of classes (e.g., Nyang’oro’s Summer School class).

“While we do not know exactly what transpired, clearly there is considerable uncertainty in the relationship between academic departments and athletic counselors.”

The report, released Thursday, is the work of a three-person subcommittee — professors Steven Bachenheimer of microbiology and immunology, Michael Gerhardt of the law school and Laurie Maffly-Kipp of religious studies. Faculty Chair Jan Boxill appointed the subcommittee in mid-May.

The report calls for an independent study of the relationship between academics and athletics by an outside commission.

It also describes concerns that the advising at Loudermilk is so much more extensive than that provided to nonathletes that athletes would have no incentive to participate in nonathletics counseling — raising the question of whether there is a gulf between the UNC academic experiences of those who play sports and those who don’t.

“From the student-athlete perspective, a highly structured schedule and more specialized support systems in the Loudermilk Center leave them with few active incentives to join in the academic life of their fellow students on campus,” the report says.

It states: “Some faculty reportedly are openly disapproving of having student-athletes enroll in their classes.”

It adds, “A significant number of our faculty are also concerned that revenue athletics are seriously compromising the academic mission of the university. They have expressed a desire for the following: 1) more explicit monitoring of athletics by faculty; 2) no oversight by athletic advising on courses; 3) a study of athletes’ course selections over a longer period (e.g., 10 years); and 4) a broader, systematic approach to addressing issues of athletes as students.”

The report concludes with a long list of recommended reforms. Among them:

  • “Every student should have an academic adviser in Steele Building (headquarters of regular student advising) sign off on courses every semester. … Academic advising should be done in Steele and okayed by Loudermilk counselors, not the other way around.”
  • There must be regular monitoring of the clustering of athletes into particular majors and courses.
  • Provide members of the Faculty Committee on Athletics with independent access to course enrollment and grade statistics on athletes. “Currently the committee is more advisory, but perhaps we need to change the charge to make it more of a watchdog.”

It also calls for closer monitoring of the activities of department chairs and their teaching activities. These concerns arose when an investigation of African and Afro-American studies turned up what appears to be a multifaceted web of academic fraud in which professors were absent, grades were changed without proper authorization and faculty oversight of students’ work was suspect. The evidence of fraud covered more than 50 classes. The report says that many of the classes had been taught in summer sessions by Nyang’oro, the department’s first and only chair until he resigned as chair under pressure in August 2011.

The department is under investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation as a result of the district attorney for Orange County saying he had received information that indicated one or more people may have been compensated for supervising classes that now are believed to have been without supervision.

Finally, the report asks some questions. Among them:

  • “Is it possible to mount competitive teams that meet most of our educational expectations for student-athletes?”
  • What is the goal of admitting student-athletes to UNC? Is it to be sure they have a 50% chance to graduate? To make sure that no one fails? Precise goals have not been clarified.”
  • “Is it reasonable to expect that student-athletes not cluster in courses and majors? Why or why not?”
  • “Why is there a separate center for support of athletes? We are aware that other schools do not follow this scheme. … Does it structurally segregate athletes even further?”

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