UNC’s tawdry notion of honor withers under public scrutiny

Since last year I have been questioning UNC’s commitment to its own honor as opposed to success on the gridiron. I have asked why “the school’s constellation of honorables [haven’t spoken] out” — except for Bill Friday, whose comment “It’s been a difficult time but like good North Carolinians we’ve admitted we’ve made the mistake, now let’s move on” I found particularly disgusting. I asked,

What does UNC President Thomas Ross have to say — anything? What about past president Erskine Bowles? What about “president emeritus” and ballyhooed father of education William C. Friday? What about the Board of Governors? What about the legislature? The media — they’ve done a fair job of pursuing it, but why aren’t they applying more pressure?

The News & Observer, at least, is applying more pressure. The paper has come out strongly these past few days against the shenanigans at UNC. From a report by Dan Kane, with emphasis added:

When McAdoo sought to return to the team this year, he was forced to make public the process that led to the honor court’s punishment. And it didn’t take long for the public spotlight to shine on something missed by the professor, the honor court, the athletics department and the NCAA: McAdoo had submitted a paper that was plagiarized from multiple sources, with many passages lifted word for word.

McAdoo, a defensive end from Antioch, Tenn., declined to talk about his case after a hearing Wednesday in which a state judge refused to grant him an injunction so he could play football.

The professor who assigned him the paper, Julius Nyang’oro, who is also chairman of UNC’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies, is out of the country and could not be reached.

[Athletics Director Dick] Baddour had testified to NCAA officials that McAdoo’s paper was “his work.” Baddour also could not be reached for comment.

The N&O has followed up today by saying it was time for UNC President Ross to get involved because “neither Athletics Director Dick Baddour nor Chancellor Holden Thorp has demonstrated a grasp of just how serious this crisis is.”

As for that, Thorp admitted to WTVD reporter Mark Armstrong that no one checked McAdoo’s paper.

Furthermore, the paper has opined that “there’s reason to doubt whether the university takes its honor court all that seriously when it comes to enforcing honesty in the classroom. When important athletes are involved, it becomes that much easier to be cynical about the whole process.” Indeed it does; I wrote last fall that “I don’t need to ask whether such extraordinary allowances would be made for a nonathlete. The answer to that one speaks for itself.”

Meanwhile, N&O reporter J.P. Giglio has written numerous posts on Twitter the past couple of days concerning the academic fraud within the football program. There are too many to quote, but you can view them all at his account. To quote several of them in a row would yield this:

At the crux of the McAdoo cheating saga, and what is being overlooked, is the employment status of Jennifer Wiley. McAdoo was treated differently by the NCAA because he worked with Wiley while she was employed by the school. Wiley’s stellar work on McAdoo’s paper, while damaging to the university’s reputation, should also, at the least, be a red flag for those other players who were allowed to redshirt. Not to mention, Wiley tutored Drew Davis, who has reportedly been offered a scholarship by UNC

Brown, Gupton, Smith (and Houston and Kendric Burney) were not touched by the NCAA (for academics) b/c they worked with Wiley while she was employed by [Coach] Butch Davis.  The first examples w/McAdoo, where her name is ludicrously blacked out in the NOA, was when she was employed by the school. The time table after that apparently includes the infamous Swahili paper.

Davis kept Wiley around, with her shuttling Drew to and from practice and school, after she was fired by the school. Bottom line, she was still around the program because of Butch Davis. Which gets back to the original question: Why did Mike McAdoo (or the other players who received her help after she was fired) think she was a viable option?

A side note: Also on Twitter has been former UNC football player Marvin Austin, also a former teammate of McAdoo’s who was also heavily involved in the scandal at UNC.* WRAL compiled Austin’s comments on Twitter following the ruling on McAdoo. A sampling:

I’m not bitter I just don’t like the way my friend, teammate,brother was mislead,misued, and ostrisized from the program for the same reasons that others got suspened and are able to play for because I know exactly the details in each case and its noway that this young man should have his dream snatched from him like the #ncaa has done.I can tell you so many stories that would be mind boggling in comparison …

I swear it is simply disheartning that the peolpe our parents put there trust in to protect us really only care about there gain solely …

I just wish the administration stood and stop the cowardly acts when the are in front of the ncaa just tell them what you told us…don’t turn and twist your story to look appealing to the Ncaa and presure the 21 year old athlete to say and do things that aren’t in there best interest…

While interesting in light of the scandal, they are also worth reading from a different angle, as suggested by Rick Henderson’s comment that “there’s little doubt that a huge number of scholarship athletes across the country in the revenue-producing sports have no business on a college campus that has any pretensions of being an academic institution.” So the institutions have to go through the motions of pretending that those scholarship athletes really do belong on campus, which involves being dishonest with the NCAA, students, professors, department heads, fans, and media — all but the most gullible of whom are complicit in the pretense given that so much money, entertainment, and bragging rights are involved.

The institutions also must lie to the parents and, ultimately, to the prospective (student)-athletes themselves. Austin’s near-literate writings give a glimpse of this charade’s nasty underbelly — how the athletes themselves are used and discarded by the arrangement. Rick questioned the value of the education the athletes are supposedly getting, and it’s a loosely held secret that there are certain wink-wink “majors” that are tailored to the less scholarly student-athlete’s particular needs (acceptable grades and light coursework). The setup works to keep them on the field and get them through college, but it is a terrible failure at helping get them through life when the cheering stops.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, such a tangled skein of dishonesty leaves academic honor horribly besmirched, a denigration we tend to tolerate so long as it stays within tacitly understood bounds (read: out of public view). Once it comes to light, however, common decency requires getting rid of it and expressing shame at it, to boot.

What makes UNC’s scandal particularly intolerable is the fact that UNC’s leaders persisted for so long in pretending not to see the filth piled in stark daylight in full view of everyone, as if by shutting their eyes extra tight they would not be compelled to get rid of it. That desperate gambit appears to have failed.

Now UNC leaders are down to one last hope: that people will believe that this institution-wide, systemic academic fraud and other, deeply ingrained scandalous behavior is hermetically sealed within the football program and doesn’t extend to, say, baseball and basketball.

* Note: I provided as background on Austin and the NCAA an apparent satire published in the Herald-Sun that was the top hit in a Google news search. Many thanks to Mark Armstrong for pointing that mistake out.

Jon Sanders / Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...