UNC chancellor: Accepting responsibility crucial to repairing scandal

A damning investigative report found that students were taking ‘non-classes’ at the university. As officials wait for disciplinary action, they’re speaking out.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is looking to move past a major academic scandal that could threaten both the school’s athletic triumphs and its accreditation.

Carol L. Folt, UNC’s chancellor, spoke to the university community Thursday and said she was “deeply disappointed” by the unethical behavior, along with the inaction on the part of faculty members and administrators who did nothing to stop the wrongdoing.

“My greatest hope is that we can restore your trust and ensure that you do not feel diminished by the bad actions of others,” she said.

The academic scandal took place over the span of nearly two decades, from 1993 to 2011, and involved almost 3,100 students.

A 131-page report by Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor leading the investigation at UNC, found that 169 student athletes were fraudulently given grades that made them eligible to play. They include 123 football players, 15 men’s basketball players, eight women’s basketball players, and 26 Olympians.

Bogus “paper classes” in the African and Afro-American Studies department didn’t require students to show up to class. All that they required was one academic paper for the entire course. There were no faculty members assigned to any of these courses, and the papers, even if plagiarized, were given high grades.

Retired administrator Deborah Crowder and former Chairman Julius Nyang’oro were at the center of the scandal, but Wainstein found that several school officials failed to report or act on concerns over the matter, and additional members continued the behavior after Crowder’s departure.

As the NCAA decides its next disciplinary steps, at least nine university employees have been fired or are facing disciplinary action. Penalties could include loss of scholarships and vacated wins for the university’s teams.

A statement from Folt posted to UNC website read, in part:

It is important to separate the past from the present—and the future. Mr. Wainstein found that the irregularities were confined to one department, peaked almost a decade ago and ended in 2011. Since first learning of these irregularities four years ago, Carolina took action to stop the wrongdoing and implemented numerous additional reforms, and we continue to take actions that build on the initiatives currently in place.

The scandal not only highlights a problem within the university that extends further than originally assumed, but also raises questions regarding athletic and academic programs nationwide. The Associated Press pointed out that UNC’s scandal is not unique; similar instances have occurred at Harvard, Duke, and the U.S. Naval Academy.

Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, tweeted several thoughts on the matter, including the following:

As for UNC, Folt said taking responsibility is necessary to addressing past problems.

“It really isn’t something that you could look at as only one thing,” she said. “It had the combination, and that’s why we have to make sure we can’t be complacent about it. We have to accept full responsibility for it.”

UNC is trying desperately to maintain what’s left of its reputation. Communicators, PR representatives, and administrators at other Division I universities should be prepared to find themselves under the microscope, and soon.

Beki Winchel is the co-editor of PR Daily.

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