Faculty Members Seek Unity Between Academics, Athletics

As UNC awaits a ruling from the National Collegiate Athletic Association on rules violations in its football program, an ad hoc group of faculty members has issued what it calls a “statement on athletic principles” designed to encourage a more open dialogue between the academic and athletics branches of the University and more integration of athletics into the “common enterprise of the University.”

The statement has the endorsement signatures of 112 members of the faculty. It invites the Board of Trustees, Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86, Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham “and the entire UNC community to join with us in working to ensure that the athletics program operates in ways that enhance and complement the University’s core mission.”

It states that “We are justly proud of UNC’s record of integrity and success in intellectual and athletic life. In light of recent developments, however, we insist that the pursuit of athletic excellence at UNC-Chapel Hill must rest on a foundation of academic integrity and should always reflect the following three principles.”

They are:

  • “Institutional openness,” defined as a willingness to “confront openly the many conflicts created by … commitment to winning in the athletic arena.” The statement asks that “all data needed to understand the athletics department, and to address the issues raised by its operations, should be readily available.”
  • “Educational responsibility,” in which “all students should be integrated fully into the life of the campus, and they should be well prepared for life after college.”
  • “Mission consistency,” in which “faculty committees and administration must be empowered to oversee athletics and ensure that it supports and remains in alignment with the University’s core missions.”

Lewis Margolis, associate professor of maternal and child health in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, said the statement is not an initiative or petition in the sense that it seeks immediate action.

“It’s not an official group,” he said. “The intent is to open dialogue with everybody on campus, everybody that’s a part of the University.” The group does not seek particular information nor does it ask to monitor the business of the athletics department. It seeks to give both athletes and faculty a feeling that athletics and academics are not separate, he said.

Jay Smith, associate chair of the history department, said, “We hope that this statement can provide a point of departure for public discussion and a foundation that the athletic program and the University as a whole can build on in the months and years ahead.”

Cunningham read the statement, and he said of the three principles, “It’s a little like motherhood and apple pie. I think we do all of that — it may not be to the degree everybody wants. I think the purpose of intercollegiate athletics is to enhance the educational experience of all students. It’s a healthy debate.”

Margolis researches college athletics through the College Sport Research Institute he founded when he was at the University of Memphis. He said he recently spoke with a UNC basketball player about this issue, who told him it was difficult to be a fully integrated student given the commitments to his sport. The player wondered, “What do I major in that I can handle,” Margolis said.

Speaking for himself, Margolis said, “That’s an issue we need to talk about.”

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