Hey UNC Banner-Chasers and Accreditation-Revokers, Sit Down and Shut Up

I fully intended for my post last week to be my only one on the UNC academic scandal.  However, the reactions by the sports media and some within higher education force me to address the issue once again.  The national sports media rushed to call on the university and the NCAA to rip down the championship banners in the Dean Dome.  Pat Forde’s article called on the university to bring down the banners while the Wainstein Report was still warm from the copier.  The calls to punish UNC didn’t stay in the sports section.  Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the well-known trade publication, Macalester College President Brian Rosenberg argued for revoking the university’s accreditation.  For Rosenberg, forget the death penalty for athletics.  Let’s kill the entire university.

Photo credit: Jonathan Stewart

To the Banner-Chasers and the Accreditation-Revokers, I have a plea from all of us who are concerned about the academic fraud:  “Sit down and shut up!”

This issue is too important for hyperbole from the sports media, higher education leaders, or holier-than-thou critics.

Too many issues in our nation today are hindered by excessive hyperbole, let’s rationally examine the issues involved, the culture that supported them, and address needed reforms.

The real problem is that we have few avenues to punish or sanction institutions when transgressions occur.  Listen to the emptiness behind the Banner-chasers and Accreditation-revokers.

For the Banner-chasers, the only thing that will make the situation right is to revoke the championships won by players that were kept eligible, in part, based on the paper classes.  Moreover, let’s revoke scholarships, impose bowl-bans, and otherwise weaken the current athletics program.

The problem is that most of the punishments hurt current student-athletes and fail to stimulate the reforms that are needed.

Much ink was spilled in the last few days encouraging the NCAA to make an example out of UNC to show the enforcement process isn’t broken (even though we all know that it is).

The core problem for the NCAA is how you punish athletic programs and teams for violations that occurred several years ago.  Sure, you can take away wins in the record book and even bring down banners, but all of this feels hollow.  The only recourse is to enact sanctions for current players which doesn’t seem right to hardly anyone.  Absent a time machine, however, this is about our only option.

If the NCAA and athletic sanctions are limited, the ability to punish on the academic side is even less.  There are only two options:  do nothing or shut down the university.

President Rosenberg obviously wants the latter.  It isn’t hyperbole to say that that the university would be forced to close if it lost accreditation.  Immediately, all degrees would be useless for transferring to other institutions and for students seeking jobs (for employers that require a degree from an accredited university).  All students would lose access to federal financial aid.  Faculty would bolt and students would be forced to follow.  I doubt the university could stay open 12 months without accreditation.

But to Rosenberg and other critics, that’s fine.  Close the oldest public university in the nation.  What good is it doing if you can’t trust the institution’s academic integrity.

I agree that the academic problems outlined in the Wainstein Report deserve sanction and call for needed reforms.  However, it is lunacy to suggest completely shutting down the university.

And that’s the problem.  The only recourse to seriously deal with academic violations is to revoke accreditation and close the university.  There aren’t mechanisms to limit faculty hiring or impose limits on university recruiting similar to the NCAA.

Forget using a scalpel to sanction the university: the only option is a sledgehammer.

I believe there may be merit in considering sanctions against the university (heck, the poor public relations reaction since the beginning of the scandal alone deserves sanctions).

However, the false bravado of the Banner-chasers and the Accreditation-revokers only clouds the real issues.

I want to have a debate about how to reform UNC and all of higher education so this is never allowed to happen again.

Protecting the academic integrity of our universities is too important for foolishness.

To all Banner-chasers and Accreditation-revokers, stop the hyperbole.  And if you aren’t going to do that, then sit down and shut up!

Let those of us who care about real issues get to work.

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34 thoughts on “Hey UNC Banner-Chasers and Accreditation-Revokers, Sit Down and Shut Up

  1. There is lengthy precedent to deal with the complaints that “sanctions only hurt students athletes that had nothing to do with the problem”. Allow any current athlete to transfer to any school without having to sit out a year.
    If you don’t want to force current student athletes to change zip codes, eliminate all off campus recruiting or contact for all sports that had players in the fake classes, for a period of 3-5 years. No visits. No phone or email contact. Nothing.
    Vacating all wins and titles from every season that players participated in the fake classes. That does nothing to harm current athletes.
    A 3 year show cause should apply to every coach, for every sport that had players in these fake classes, while they were coaching.
    Strict compliance for a period of 5 years, to be conducted by a member of the NCAA, that did not attend UNC. Perhaps someone from the Drake Group.

  2. UNC, as an institution of higher learning, sold its mission statement for victories on the field and court. Those who have fallen on the sword (Crowder, Dr. N mainly) have been paid handsomely for their sacrifice. The higher-ups will continue to demand athletic success and are willing to “do what it takes” to achieve it. The only way to correct the “tail wagging the dog” in this case is to remove the tail from the institution. Shut down athletics for some period of time and allow current student athletes to continue their education free of charge from UNC or transfer elsewhere. All seasons with ineligable players should be forfited. All money gained should be paid back.

  3. Vacating wins, taking down banners and revoking championships may ring hollow, but what’s the argument against it? At least it falls on the ones actually involved.

  4. As for the accreditation problem. When you consider that Wainstein’s report was relatively narrow in focus (AFAM dept only) and he turned up as much as he did. You’d have to conclude that every single department at UNC should be equally scrutinized by an outside party, before SACS can make an honest determination. After all, Wainstein turned up 18 years of fraud in a 23(?) year old academic department. What else is hiding under the older rugs?

  5. Let those who are without sin cast the first stone. I can guarantee you that the same or worse issues would turn up at any university with a sports program undergoing the same level of scrutiny. That’s why it’s pointless to nuke UNC. It needs to be addressed as a systemic issue, not a one-school issue. I’m sure a great portion of the backlash is the typical schadenfreude from fans of opposing schools who are jumping on a chance to bring down their rival.

  6. I’m a UNC alum (M.A. in Technology and Communication Dec. 2013) and a lifelong Tar Heel fan, I work in higher education in North Carolina, and I don’t know a *soul* who’s arguing to strip accreditation (and, yes, that would close the university). But I know quite a number of alumni who ARE arguing for the NCAA’s death penalty, even as we’re skeptical that the NCAA would grow the pair required to impose that. So, nice straw man, but the people you’re criticizing are in no way representative of the popular tide as perceived by someone who is positioned right in the middle of it.

  7. Until the suspect courses are rendered “null and void”, sit down and shut up. If the courses are allowed to remain accredited, it is all a moot point. You can’t sanction someone for getting credit for sanctioned courses. If the NCAA rules the courses invalid (which they can’t do) despite their continued accreditation, they will have law suits on their hands on behalf of the students who took these courses. You can’t punish the athletes that took these courses without punishing the non-athletes.

  8. How is it a straw man if he’s literally linked an article called for the university to lose its accreditation? Do you know what that term means?

  9. This is part of my point. Most rational people wouldn’t suggest it but some of the reactions in the media (and not just sports media) are calling for it. This is part of the hyperbole that is distracting from a discussion on real solutions.

  10. One of the problems is that it is nearly impossible to tell what was legitimate and what wasn’t. Clearly, there was widespread academic fraud, but there were some that took the courses legitimately. As the Wainstein Report notes, the way the course registrations occurred, it is impossible to tell with certainty which was legit and which wasn’t. Given that, you can’t render all of the courses null and void.

  11. I feel like the NCAA has to change its whole culture. They need to allow kids to go right out of high school again. Or force students to stay longer than a year. I feel like for the most part the NCAA created this problem. They knew they’d lose a bunch of money if kids like Lebron and Kobe kept opting out of college. So schools had to manage the hand they were dealt. Create GPA boosters for the kids who do not even want to be in school. I know this is an academic issue. But sports are the face of universities in this day. No one cares about Johnnie and his classes. Its going to be interesting to see what becomes of this “scandal”. I put that in quotes beacuse for anyone to be shocked that there is fraud or corruption in a multi billion dollar industy is silly. To see if other whistle blowers at other schools come out. But I feel like UNC will get a slap on the wrist or nothing at all. They’re worth too much in the NCAA eyes.

  12. The NCAA doesn’t set those rules. It’s the individual leagues. If a kid goes straight from HS to the pro’s, he doesn’t even deal with the NCAA so how do they need to change their culture?

  13. Ah yes, because the Drake Group has showed absolutely no bias in this scandal. You probably had absolutely no idea who the Drake Group was until their extreme stance on the subject of punishment, was published everywhere.

  14. Yes, I’m a UNC grad and on the faculty at SMU. I also have a doctorate in higher education and research colleges and universities. I detail my full relationship to this issue in my last post. http://higheredprofessor.com/2014/10/23/unc-scandal/ I’m not absolving the university of any of the problems. Quite the opposite. Rather, I want to fix the real academic and governance issues and stop playing around with the hyperbole sideshow that many in the media seem to want to play.

  15. 1 – Calling for revocation of UNC’s accreditation is not the same as calling for UNC to be shut down. UNC would, presumably, go through a rough period, and apply to be re-accredited after a year or two.
    2 – How would losing 2005 or 2009 banners hurt current players? And, how do you expect UNC to learn its lesson, or other schools watching this unfold to learn the lesson, if punishment is minimized? Should the lesson be “crime pays” or should it be “crime doesn’t pay”?
    3 – Do you think “sit down and shut up” is an appropriate tone in a discussion about fraud at a public university? Or really, in any discussion with other adults? It’s pretty obvious that you’re overly emotional about this, which leads to …
    4 – Since you didn’t mention this in your blog post (it is on your About Me page), I just thought I’d point out for all curious onlookers that you are a UNC alumni.

  16. Sorry, but the punishment must meet the crime. In this case, we’re talking about the most egregious and brazen instances of academic fraud the NCAA has ever dealt with.

    Think that’s hyperbole?

    Jan Boxill, soon to be FACULTY CHAIR of UNC (and, incidentally, allowed to doctor UNC’s original response to the NCAA) was colluding with Crowder to fix fix grades, and laughs off blatant plagiarism as though it happens all the time with her athletes.

    Wayne Walden (Roy’s right-hand man, brought with him from Kansas) specifically asks for paper classes for a player. Crowder responds that, since she has enrolled some non-athletes in the class, she’s comfortable adding the player (gee, wonder why she put non-athletes in the class?)

    Mike Fox (UNC Head Baseball coach) on copy along with 3 other UNC staffers on an email discussing “taking care of” an eligibility issue with a player by putting him in a paper class for the summer.

    The football staff being given a powerpoint presentation about Crowder’s retirement, and how “easy grades” weren’t going to be as readily available going forward…and discussing the plan going forward.

    …this, and much more…for AT LEAST 18 years…and consider that this was only the things discovered via email. Imagine what wasn’t put on record, and what was discussed before the common usage of email.

    No, UNC banner-huggers, the punishment must fit the crime. The NCAA must serve a punishment that tells UNC under no uncertain terms, “This must never happen again.” The punishment must remove ill-gotten gains from prior fraud AND ensure UNC’s inability to perpetuate future fraud.

    At a minimum, UNC should vacate any wins gained by using an ineligible player. If Championships were won with those players, those should be vacated as well. Any sport impacted by the fraud should also be sanctioned going forward hard enough for the message to be delivered. A post-season ban for several years for each sport involved, along with scholarship reductions and a limiting of off-campus recruiting would be a start.

    All current student-athletes should be given the opportunity to transfer without sitting out a year, to lessen the impact on current SA’s. Fans angry that they might be impacted only have their own University to blame, as recruits have been repeatedly told that no NCAA sanctions would be forthcoming, despite most of them knowing their own misdeeds.

    Because of UNC’s reluctance to accept their own culpability during the prior 5 year investigation(s), harsh punishment is the only answer. One need only look at UNC’s treatment of Mary Willingham, Jay Smith, and Rashaad McCants to see that UNC would always rather shoot the messenger, rather than come to grips with their own corruption.

  17. I’ve been following the Drake Group’s reporting on this scandal for months. Way before anyone started discussing punishment. The Drake Group is an organization dedicated to College Athletic Reform. I think they would be more than qualified to assure compliance. I have no idea what their opinion of punishment should be. That’s based on opinion.

  18. How so? The Philosophy dept, the Sports Science dept and Naval strategies (not sure what dept thats under) have been implicated in the Supplemental report, through emails.
    I’d question anyone’s critical thinking skills and honesty that wouldnt want the rest of the University’s programs reviewed.

  19. Who is casting stones? The evidence has been presented. Like any court preceeding, after conviction comes the sentencing phase, or punishment.
    This isnt about what others have done at different Universities. If you try and tell a judge that “everyone else does it too”, that’ll get you nowhere.

  20. Stripping accreditation would be extreme, to say the least. But I do feel that someone should come in and do an extensive review of every dept. That isn’t to punish the University but to root out any faculty or administrators that have acted in an unethical fashion. That places the blame squarely where it belongs.
    I’d also advocate a loss of State pension for Crowder, Nyang’oro, Boxill, Walden and anyone else that participated in the fraud. These. People did nothing but betray the trust of the people of the state of NC for 18 years. They deserve no pension.

  21. I appreciate your perspective on this, and given your interest in higher education reforms, I was wondering if you’d looked over the actions the university has already taken. Do you think they’re on the right track or is there something missing that won’t properly address the academic and governance failures? The first step of any proposed debate should be to look at what they’ve done since they uncovered the problem and also if their future plans are adequate.

    As a UNC alum who was also completely unaware of the paper classes while I was a student there, I’m appalled that this was allowed to go on for so long. I only took one AFAM course, the standard undergraduate lecture course (41 at that time) to fulfill my general college requirements, and while it was relatively easy it required some study and work. I’m also of the opinion that there isn’t much the NCAA or any accreditation group could do that would be anything more than a pound of belated flesh. The people who were the most complicit are retired or fired, and the tattered credibility of A&S, in particular, will only get better through internal correction.

  22. I am a UNC Alum. The biggest issue I have had and always had is that Willingham and Jay Smith and Rashad McCants contributed nothing to the situation, they only high lighted what was already known, for their own goals. The statistics given to prove Willingham’s point was fundamentally flawed and erroneous to support the facts. The student information she aquired was aquired after she was no longer working with students and her application to use the data was deliberately mis represented so she could aquire the data in the first place. She plagerized her own masters thesis. She is not a trained educator and quite frankly made claims the facts do not support. She is as corrupt as the institution she accuses.

    As for Rashad McCants, his only desire was to get enough notoriety so he could go to the NBA, he saw no need to go to classes and as such has no credibility what so ever. He made sure he was eligble by whatever means so he could show case the goods on a national stage. He has made statements in the past that indicate he has issues with his true worth versus reality. Athletes have as much responsibility as the institution when it comes to this issue with fraud and academics. These high profile athletes are well schooled before they ever show up at a university on what they need to do to “get by”. Rashad McCants was no fool then and was perfectly aware of what he intended to do, and has shown out rite contempt for the UNC academic community. There is a reason he never spoke to Kenneth Weinstein, to do so if he were lying would create an implicit liability for damages.

    Dont’t speak of the trimvirate of willingham, Smith and McCants they are only in it for the money.

    The fraud is real, and realistically removing accreditation years after the mess was cleaned up serves no purpose. If that was going to be done, it should have happened three years ago, that ship has long since sailed.

    The fact is the only thing that has changed in the Weinstein report is to document the length of time the problems had gone on and why it happened in the first place.

    The university has already put substantial controls in place for the very reasons already mentioned, accreditation being number one. The only thing left to do quite frankly is pull down some banners remove some victories, the rest is a moot point.

  23. Glad someone finally made this point. Foolish people are so hard up to bring down athletics that they have forgotten about the non-athletes who took these sanctioned classes. What’s your plan for this group? I’ll wait….

  24. Jan Boxhill – Parr Center for Ethics. Faculty Chairwoman.

    Let that sink in and rethink this entire article.

  25. Revoke their degrees until they make up the appropriate amount of credits to make them whole again.
    Did you really need to wait for that suggestion?

  26. As noted, the way the courses were labeled and registered for much of the early part of the “paper classes” scheme, there is no way to tell which ones were legitimate independent studies (with a professor and actual academic work performed) and which were not. I would suspect most of the legitimate independent study classes during that time were more strenuous than many of the current online course offerings by accredited universities.

    So a student took one of the legitimate courses, then many years later has their degree revoked until they can take enough time out of their professional career and family life to complete another course?

    Did you really make that suggestion?

  27. As a UNC alum, I agree that our school should be punished for what has happened to keep this from happening at other schools. Why should anyone reform if there is no punishment…especially when there is so much money to be made for the school through athletics by bending the rules. However, I do believe what happened at UNC as just an indicator of a broader, systemic problem that has tainted education from the middle school level all the way up through college. Athletes receive special treatment in order to remain eligible for athletic contests. Any alumni from a college/university that has a competitive athletic program year in and year out is foolish if they don’t believe this is also going on at their school in order to keep the best athletes on the field. If all those who are so passionate about bringing the “sledgehammer” down on UNC would just direct some of their energy to reform at their own school, then real reform on a systemic level would begin to occur. It will be interesting to see if all those folks at Pack Pride and elsewhere that are clamoring for justice to be served, will turn their attention to their own schools once the investigation at UNC is complete. If you are not ready to do that, then yes I agree that you are just casting stones.

  28. UNC English and History 1990

    There will be no death penalty. That punishes local businesspeople and the off-campus community (the town -gown relationship) that had nothing to do with this. That conversation happened with Penn State, and the NCAA isn’t going to kill Peter to punish Paul. Ever. That sort of punishment is off the table, in my opinion.

    I do see the probability of decades of wins being expunged from the record nooks and teams having scholarship reductions so steep that the teams are noncompetitive for a long time.

    My concern would be the accountability on the academic side. Everyone is howling for acvreditation, banners, wins, and coaches. From my perspective, the greatest sins here were committed by the deans who didn’t do their jobs. Where is their accountability?

  29. It would be absurd for SACS to take any action against UNC for the actions of one faculty member and his assistant.

    It would be absurd for the NCAA to unilaterally make judgments about whether or not a class was appropriate.

    And, for the health of the University, it would be absurd for the University to spend any more time on self-agonizing introspection. There are clearly people interested in magnifying this scandal into ridiculous proportions that could torch the school itself. UNC has implemented reforms, it needs to get in the business of telling the pearl-clutchers to pound sand.

  30. This is the comment thing I’ve seen all month. Really shows up how people are quick to jump to sanctamonious conclusions and mockery without looking at the facts. The apology shows great character though.