Everyone on campus seems to be looking to Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jim Dean to guide UNC through the latest athletic debacle — even the gym attendant he says offered him a towel and some advice Monday morning.
Dean, who has served as the voice of the administration the past few weeks, faced a larger crowd during an hour-long discussion with the faculty executive committee Monday, where faculty members urged a more transparent response to the allegations than what previous administrations had done.
Since the CNN report last week called into question the literacy of UNC’s student athletes, the NCAA, Dean and men’s basketball coach Roy Williams have expressed their doubts about the accuracy of the study cited. Officials say they still haven’t received the data from the woman at the center of it all, former athletic tutor Mary Willingham.
“My impression from what I’ve read is that our responses have been framed in a way that looks at the weeds, or the leaves on the trees, rather than the forest,” said Steve Bachenheimer, a microbiology professor and committee member.
“A fraction of students read or write in a level that is not dissimilar to descriptions in the paper. I’m wondering why the University doesn’t own that and use that as a starting position.”
Gregory Copenhaver, a biology professor on the committee, said the current response was eroding the UNC brand.
“But if we take the hit, step up and own it, and do everything we can to say, ‘This is Ground Zero, we’re going to build from here’ … If you own it, you maintain value of the brand.”
Dean said the administration is not trying to sugarcoat the media reports — they’re trying to understand them.
“How can I be more open minded then saying, please come talk to me and show me the data?” he said.
“Help me understand.”
Dean said he is working to access the data that Willingham has used and make them public.
“I’m working on that with the chancellor, PR team and others,” he said.
“It’s an open issue … About eight or 10 of us spent 6 hours in this room on Saturday trying to address this. Our first priority is to understand what truth there may be in the allegations that have been made.”
Dean said the new vice chancellor for public relations, Joel Curran, has been heavily involved in the response to the allegations.
But some faculty have noticed one face missing from the response.
Chancellor Carol Folt has not made a statement about the reports, participated in any press conference or been quoted in any article.
“Folt is in the honeymoon period, and she needs to step up the substance of what she has to say,” Copenhaver said.
Dean said there is work being done to find the truth about the statistics, and the efforts of the Student-Athlete Academic Initiative Working Group make him optimistic for the future.
“I’m not just saying, blah blah blah, we’re working on this,” he said. “ I do think we’re asking the right questions. We do want to say Carolina is a national leader, but right now it’s a little hard to say. But I believe … we will.
“We will have something to be proud of.”
Staff writer Colleen Moir contributed reporting.
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