Following the massive academic fraud scandal at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill is essentially following the entire leadership of a school – president, deans, high-ranking faculty – attempting to convince people that this leadership saw no difference between a department flagrantly run for the convenience of its athletics program and all other departments.

These people are attempting to convince us that despite well-established fraudulent procedures along these lines at many big-time sports schools – clustering of players into certain majors, department chairs who are nothing more than tools of the athletic program, tutors who cheat on behalf of players, the use of the designation “independent study” to create rafts of bogus courses – all signs of sports-sponsored academic fraudulence on their campus “escaped attention,” in the words of a dean.

No wonder they are having difficulties persuading us to believe that – despite SUNY Binghamton, Auburn, and all the other recent national academic fraud stories with exactly these elements – no one at Chapel Hill had enough distrust in the integrity of its catering-to-athletes department to investigate even a little. We’re supposed to believe that, until the unfolding of a series of events entirely outside the hands of the school’s leadership, everyone trusted in the integrity of this department and its chair.

It’s tawdry and pathetic. It’s insulting to all of us watching as UNC simply and repeatedly lies. It’s particularly insulting to the taxpayers of North Carolina who pay the salaries of corrupt department chairs and cynical administrators.

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9 Responses to ““I certainly trust the basic integrity of our courses and our faculty, and believe they’re doing their jobs,” [the dean of Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences] told [a] UNC system [review] panel. “But it has been a struggle for us, as you know. It has been difficult to convince people that that is true.””

  1. Mike S. Says:

    On a related note, UD might be interested in Chris Hedges’ latest piece on the social cost of careerism:
    http://www.alternet.org/chris-hedges-how-careerism-big-part-our-social-predicament

  2. David Says:

    Hi Margaret: You might also be interested in the resignation of a prominent former UNC social psychologist apparently for academic fraud. Three publications have been retracted. No dount the tip of the proverbial iceberg. So much for the “basic integrity” of UNC faculty.
    http://www.nature.com/news/uncertainty-shrouds-psychologist-s-resignation-1.10968

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    David: Thanks for that link – it’s the most thorough article I’ve seen about the Sanna case. I’ve mentioned the case on this blog, but hadn’t found something that detailed to link to.

  4. theprofessor Says:

    Geez, there are something like 3000 faculty at UNC. Drawing conclusions about the integrity of the whole based on a couple of examples may perhaps not be a sound procedure. Likewise, I would hesitate to draw conclusions about the integrity of every federal bureaucrat just because their boss, the godlet Obama, lied repeatedly about his younger days in his autofauxtography.

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    54 courses and dozens of independent study courses that essentially didn’t exist, tp. Sorry, but that’s enough academic activity to make one question the enterprise. Integrity here, as at Penn State, involves what people did as well as what people didn’t do.

  6. theprofessor Says:

    You are still talking about a number of credit hours that amounts probably to hundredths of one percent of what are generated annually by the whole institution.

    I would think that in the current academic climate UNC would be praised for taking the Dear Leader’s comment to heart: you didn’t build that! So what if a few deserving young men got some assistance from the community rather than pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, taking real courses, writing their own papers, etc.? It takes a village to maintain an idiot, after all.

  7. Margaret Soltan Says:

    tp: Another number:

    Approximately 600 students were registered in these classes between 2007 and 2009.

    And not all were athletes.

    And even if the final fraud numbers are relatively small, this is a big story because it involved an entire department, a department chair, and an entire category of students.

  8. theprofessor Says:

    We can agree that it is a big story. The issue is whether the bad behavior of a couple of faculty members, a department chair, and a willfully negligent administration vitiates the work of the rest of the university. Practically every large university has had the moral equivalent of “rocks for jocks” courses, at least a couple of wholly undemanding majors, and a smallish cadre of jock-sniffing faculty enablers for a very long time. There is nothing really new here. What may be somewhat new is the sheer number of woefully underprepared athletes being recruited by high-end institutions who cannot even be accommodated by the existing gut courses. Technology is also making it much easier to avoid effective detection. In the bad old days, grade sheets were delivered directly to a registrar’s office, and the grades then transferred to the students’ permanent files by office staff. If Prof. Fanboy gave the whole football team A grades in his gut course semester after semester, word got around. Likewise, if Prof. Cheergirl dropped off 40 directed study grade sheets for a single summer session, word got around. Now faculty members either enter their own grades or a departmental secretary does. Who the hell knows anymore? Administrators care a lot more about faculty loads below the norm than people doing overloads, especially if the overloads are either unpaid or compensation cut off at some point.

  9. Margaret Soltan Says:

    tp: Many good points in your comment, especially about the way the new technology allows everyone to disappear from the social / academic scene and do their own thing and therefore makes fraud detection that much more difficult.

    Big unpaid overloads should be a big red flag to administrators, and for this and many other reasons UNC will – and should – take a fall.

    The question of the degree to which this familiar and profound athletic corruption should, as you say, vitiate the rest of the university is an incredibly important and subtle one, it seems to me. It’s playing out in discussions of Penn State right now.

    Here’s my take on it. Almost every university – there are some exceptions – can point to professors and departments doing good and sometimes great work. A few universities are good pretty much everywhere – Princeton, for instance – but many universities are good somewhere.

    The fact that I can point to some strong departments at Penn State or the University of Georgia or Chapel Hill or (heading toward the basement here) Auburn or Clemson has little to do, I think, with the much bigger fact that I can point to decades of sports related fraud (and other forms of athletics-related institution-destroying mayhem) at all of those schools. As the fallout at Penn State has shown, these schools (not to mention their surrounding towns) are their sports teams, and the rest is peripheral. Faculty let that happen; faculty lost what the NCAA loves to call institutional control. Faculty sat on their asses for years – they continue to do so – while their universities quite overtly handed themselves over to coaches and ESPN. Some professors have protested; some – as at the University of Colorado a few years ago after its rape scandal – have left. But most – especially at the worst-offending schools – have done nothing.

    So, to go back to your comment – It’s not the bad behavior of a few people that vitiates the work of the rest of these universities. It takes a village to make an intellectual institution a desert. And it takes time. Penn State only now – after years and years of appalling, ignored, misbehavior – has gotten there. As the Chapel Hill story inevitably widens to include years of terrible behavior and neglect on the part of many people, it too will head toward the intellectual desert.

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