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The Daily Tar Heel

Faculty Athletics Meeting talks special talent and disturbing origin of Kenan family wealth


The Faculty Athletics Committee met on Tuesday. 

The Faculty Athletics Committee met Tuesday afternoon, and here is what you need to know:

Vice Provost for Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions Stephen M. Farmer gave a presentation on the admission of students with special talents, specifically athletes.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions is in charge of making admissions decisions for all potential students. These decisions are based off of a policy established by the system’s Board of Governors and the University’s Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees’ policy mandates that admission must be competitive, but it provides some exceptions--including one for students who display special talents for University programs.  

There are a total of 200 spaces in each first-year class allotted for these students: 160 for student-athletes and 20 each for dramatic art and music. A few years ago, in order to make a decision on these special talent students, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the Committee on Special Talent worked with the Odum Institute to develop a formula to create a predicted GPA for a given student’s first year.

“The formula is crude; it predicts roughly 30 percent of the variance in first year GPA," Farmer said. "We just revised the formula about a year ago to look at the performance of students in more recent entering classes.”

Students who have a predicted GPA below 2.3 must be individually reviewed by the Committee on Special Talent. The formula has been a useful tool to bring more academically competitive recruits to the University.  

They retrospectively applied the formula to classes dating back to 2006, giving them the ability to see how recruiting has changed with this new system. In 2006, there were 29 students who would have required a review using the formula. In 2013, when the formula was first used, that number was 14, and in 2017, there were only 8 students in need of review. Of those students, the graduation and retention rate has improved over the past few years. 

“If you look back to when we started doing things the way we’re doing things in 2013, and you think about the students that require faculty review and had at least a year at the University two-thirds of them have either graduated or are still enrolled," Farmer said. "And 94 percent of them either graduated from the University, are still enrolled or left academically eligible.”

Vince Ille, the senior associate athletic director, attributes part of this change is the improved communication coaches about academic expectations during recruiting.

“The coaches have a lot of clarity on what the expectations are,” Ille said. “If you’re around enough coaches, one of the things you learn is that they perform to expectations. If you can communicate them as effectively as admissions has, and we can support it, internally it’s going to work out.” 

The Committee passed a motion recommending the UNC Department of Athletics take steps to place a new plaque on Kenan Memorial Stadium to recognize the unsettling origins of the Kenan family's wealth.

The motion was proposed by committee member William Sturkey as an attempt to correct the inaccuracies of the plaque that is currently attached to the stadium. The current marker attributes the Kenan family wealth to “chemicals, power, railroads and hotels.” 

“That is a lie. The Kenan family fortune was not ‘made in the early 1900s.’ The Kenan family fortune was compiled in the 19th century based on plantation based slavery," Sturkey said. "In 1850, the Kenan family owned 49 people, including 23 people aged 10 or less. We’re not talking about a large generational leap here. We’re talking about the father of the man for whom the stadium is named.” 

The motion was partially a reaction to a Southern Poverty Law Center report that revealed a large level of ignorance and misunderstanding about the history of slavery in America. To help correct this, the committee said a new marker should be placed on the stadium to help properly educate people on the history of those whose names adorn buildings across campus. 

The committee unanimously passed the motion which formally recommends the Department of Athletics do whatever necessary to put another plaque on Kenan Stadium to clarify that the majority of the family's wealth came from plantation-based slavery and to recognize that the family owes much of its wealth to these people.

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