Athletic culture needs change: Athletic success should not come at the expense of academic rigor

In order for UNC to claim academic prestige, all of the University’s programs must reflect prestige.

New details about academic fraud in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies at UNC seem to confirm what many have suggested all along, that academics are often compromised to maintain a competitive advantage in athletics.

The University’s investigation into the department began in September, when it was found that a former UNC defensive end plagiarized a paper for a course in the department, and the plagiarism went undetected.

In May, the University released a report on its findings which showed — among other things — forged faculty signatures on grade rolls for several courses and unauthorized grade changes.

At that time, University officials said the investigation was thorough and complete, and those involved in questionable academic practices will no longer be associated with UNC.

When the University’s initial report was released, Karen Gil, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, sent a letter to all college faculty members: “The courses in question involved both athletes and non-athletes, and there was no evidence that athletes were treated differently than the other students.”

A month later, despite the fact that administrators claimed their confidence in the report’s completeness, Chancellor Holden Thorp said at least one of the suspect classes was composed solely of current and former football players.

This week, new reports in The (Raleigh) News & Observer suggest the problems involving student athletes were more ingrained and go back farther than the University initially suggested or reported.

The continued release of new information suggests that the University’s attempts at transparency have been neither thorough nor complete.

UNC has always held itself to a high standard of academic excellence, and the events surrounding the reports and investigations into the Department of African and Afro-American Studies threaten to dismantle that reputation.

At the June UNC-system Board of Governors meeting, board member Hannah Gage said, “This incident leads one to believe there is a culture operating under its own rules.”

It’s time to alter the culture that plagues many top universities — finding balance between competitive athletics programs and academic rigor.

UNC now has an opportunity to be at the forefront of that cultural change, if it’s brave enough to risk a few trophies.

University officials have changed some academic policies. But they need to be address the severity of the problem and ensure that reform goes deep into the culture.

This means University officials should communicate better with the public and respond in a timely manner to records requests.

Athletics are important. They bring in revenue and create a sense of unity and pride among students and alumni.

But this is a school that touts its excellent academic reputation. And we must hold success in the classroom to be as important as victory on the playing field.

Thanks for reading.

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