More than 100 faculty want the University to know the last thing on their minds is NCAA rules and eligibility. Instead, they say its focus should be on giving student athletes what they were promised — a UNC education.
The athletics reform group, a collection of faculty who have come together due to persistent academic scandal, has submitted a “statement of principles” to be presented at the Faculty Council meeting a week from today.
The document provides three reforms — and the group is just getting started.
“I think it’s going to be a huge movement,” said Mary Willingham, who joined the group when she started speaking out about her experience as a reading specialist who worked with athletes.
Among these changes are: guaranteeing athletes funding for legal counsel when they are accused of wrongdoing by UNC or the NCAA, increasing the number of learning specialists and banning weeknight football games.
Chancellor Holden Thorp said the suggestions are productive, but not all essential — namely, eliminating Thursday night games.
Several members of the group said that, as a whole, it is frustrated with a report released by former Gov. Jim Martin, which suggested athletics played no part in a scandal that revealed fraudulent classes.
Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, an anthropology professor and group member, said the effort is about rebalancing the equation between athletics and academics.
“I think the fundamental point is everything we have gone through over the last three years has caused some of us on the faculty — it’s certainly caused me — to lose confidence that the academic interests of athletes are really being defended,” he said.
Members said the suggestion to provide athletes funding for counsel stemmed from recent NCAA investigations.
Thorp said he agrees with this suggestion, and though the University has advised athletes before, there is room for improvement.
“I think we’ve always done that, but I think in retrospect, in 2010 we probably should have done more to make sure that our students understood the options they had for legal representation,” Thorp said.
Richard Southall, a professor in sport administration, said this is an important step because of the way the NCAA is structured.
“This is not a legal proceeding per se, because the NCAA is a non-state actor and does not need to provide due process, so who is telling the athlete what is in his or her best interest and providing them with their options?”
The statement also calls for the hiring of more literacy and learning specialists, something that faculty members said is an old promise.
“I think it’s pretty clear that people are now understanding how underprepared students struggle at Carolina,” Willingham said.
Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said the department has added significant resources to the academic support program throughout the last few years, but progress will continue once a new director for the program is hired.
Some faculty members are concerned that revenue boosters might be more of a priority than hiring more counselors. Cunningham has expressed interest in renovating the Smith Center to include luxury seating.
But Cunningham said operations such as the addition of the Blue Zone in Kenan Stadium free up more money for academic support.
“So actually, the theory would be that the revenue generators associated with a facility project would actually enhance our ability to support other parts of the department.”
But faculty are worried revenue has become too important, which is why Wayne Lee, chairman of the department of peace, war and defense, said getting rid of weeknight games is a “no brainer.”
Lee said because the football team is so large, having that many student athletes travel on a school night is disruptive, and if the game were at home, it’s disruptive for students who attend as well.
Thorp disagreed, and said there are many sports that hold weeknight games.
The football team has a Thursday night home game on its 2013 schedule, though it is during fall break.
The group also calls for broad-ranging, multi-year town hall meetings to start this March.
Thorp originally announced that after the Martin Report was released, a discussion led by President of the Association of American Universities Hunter Rawlings would begin. But months after its release, some faculty said they still have not heard when it will start.
Thorp said he hopes to announce the first meeting with Rawlings at the Faculty Council meeting, and said the University was waiting for the UNC-system Board of Governors’ Academic Review Panel to finish its work.
Jan Boxill, chairwoman of the faculty, said this is a time to work together.
“It isn’t athletics versus academics — it’s the University,” she said.
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