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Learning specialist Bradley Bethel quits job to make documentary on UNC academic scandal

A Kickstarter for the proposed documentary raised $50,000 in one day.

Bradley Bethel, former learning specialist in UNC's athletic department, left his job to produce a documentary about the media's coverage of the recent athletic scandal.
Bradley Bethel, former learning specialist in UNC's athletic department, left his job to produce a documentary about the media's coverage of the recent athletic scandal.

Bradley Bethel feels so strongly about what he calls the media’s sensationalism of UNC’s athletic-academic scandal that he quit his job to make a documentary about it.

Bethel’s documentary, “Unverified: The Film,” raised $50,000 after just one day on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter.

The film’s Kickstarter has raised over $90,000 with more than 525 backers since the campaign began online. The fundraising campaign will end on Feb. 28 with a stretch goal of $110,000.

On Bethel’s popular, and occasionally controversial, blog, Coaching the Mind, he wrote about his decision to leave his position as a learning specialist as a member of the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes — a position he has held since 2011.

“The decision to leave was difficult, but I made it with the conviction that this film is important and with the hope to return to UNC after the film is completed,” he said.

Bethel, writer and executive producer of the film, said he was shocked by the initial success of the Kickstarter campaign.

“I had no idea,” he said. “We reached $50,000 in a day. I mean, it was overwhelming. I was in awe.”

Bethel said he has many goals in mind for the documentary, including showing another perspective of the scandal.

He said he believes in the power of documentary filmmaking to show a different side and shake the accepted story of the scandal.

“We are going to give a voice to people whose voices haven’t been included in the narrative so far,” he said. “We’re going to give an opportunity to former academic counselors, former athletes, former athletic officials to share their experience.”

Rick White, associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs, declined to offer a comment on behalf the University about Bethel’s project and his resignation.

Connie Lo Ferrara, producer of the documentary, has previously worked on “365 Days: A Year in Happy Valley,” a documentary focused on challenging the media’s perspective of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University. She said she was contacted by Bethel to work on the film.

“I think there are a lot of parallels between the situation at Penn State and the one at the University of North Carolina,” she said.

She said there is no specific debut date yet. She said the group plans to put out the documentary as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality.

Ferrara said she was also surprised with the immediate success the Kickstarter had.

But Jay Smith, a professor in the Department of History and the co-author with Mary Willingham, former athletic learning specialist, of “Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes and the Future of Big-Time College Sports,” said he was not surprised by the Kickstarter campaign.

“Boosters have deep pockets, and the protection of the Carolina brand has become something of an obsession with many of them,” he said in an email.

Smith and Bethel have a history of public disagreement.

Bethel admitted it is paradoxical that he, a former UNC employee, is making a documentary about UNC and media bias.

“First, I would say I do have bias. I don’t deny that, but the claim that I make from the beginning, from the first time I started blogging about this — I’ve always made great efforts to support the claims with the facts.”

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