A’s For Athletes: How UNC-Chapel Hill is Fumbling for Academic Standards

“Athletes couldn’t write a paper; they couldn’t write a paragraph; they couldn’t write a sentence,” says Mary Willingham, a former academic counselor for athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Some of these students could read at a second or third grade level but really that is, for an adult, considered illiterate.”

We’ve known for a while about deep corruption and conflicts of interest between UNC’s athletic and academic programs. When athletes at UNC Chapel Hill perform poorly in school, they are encouraged to take so-called “paper classes” in the African Studies Department. “There was an elaborate system where students were taking classes that didn’t really exist called independent studies and they just had to write a paper,” Willingham told ESPN. When asked how often athletes had to attend these classes, she replied, “There was no attendance.”

Deunta Williams, a former defensive back at UNC–Chapel Hill, spoke to ESPN regarding the classes players took. “The first ones that actually told us [these paper classes existed] were our advisors. Their job isn’t necessarily to make Deunta Williams a better person—a smarter person. Their job necessarily is to make sure that I’m eligible to play.”

A former professor and chairman of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, Julius Nyang’oro, has been embroiled in this scandal since 2011 when “a campus investigation found certain classes in the department that instructors did not teach, undocumented grade changes, and faked faculty signatures on some grade reports.” He stepped down as chairman in 2011 and willfully retired in 2012. In December 2013, Nyang’oro was charged with a felony for receiving $12,000 in compensation for a class he did not teach but distributed grades for.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has long prided itself on a 200-year history as a top-tier institution. For the 2013 incoming class, the university had an acceptance rate of 27 percent (15 percent for out-of-state students), boasted that 78 percent of their students were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes, and reported a median ACT score between 28 and 33. Barron’s ranks it in a selectivity category of 1 denoting it is one of the “most competitive” schools to be admitted to. Forbes rated it 38th in their best colleges ranking. US News and World Report ranked it 30th.

None of the above statistics of academic excellence are reflected in this final paper submitted by an athlete for the class AFAM 41. The paper (which is only a paragraph) is reproduced exactly as it was written. It received an A-.

Rosa Parks: My Story
On the evening of December Rosa Parks decided that she was going to sit in the white people section of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. During this time blacks had to give up their seats to whites when more whites got on the bus. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Her and the bus driver began to talk and the conversation went like this. “Let me have those front seats” said the driver. She didn’t get up and told the driver that she was tired of giving her seat to white people. ” I’m going to have you arrested,” said the driver. “You may do that,” Rosa Parks responded. Two white policemen came in and Rosa Parks asked them ” why do you all push us around?” The police officer replied and said ” I don’t know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.

When college sports represent an $8 billion industry that rivals the NFL, it’s no surprise corruption exists when you follow the money. Winning makes coaches, deans, administrators, and schools enormously wealthy. “I think that to keep winning and to keep these athletes eligible we had to do something. So, we cheated.” confessed Willingham. It’s a complex system of money-making obfuscated by the pretense of academics and learning. But the school is doing no service to their athletes. With minimal graduation rates and a lack of education these athletes are being set up to fail.

Go Tar Heels.


“UNC Academic Scandal: Whistleblower, Former Athlete Speak Out” ESPN
“North Carolina professor accepted favors from academic support staff” SB Nation

  • Katie

    My opinion is that it’s a little late in the game to be writing an article like this without mentioning that UNC has finally accepted blame for the scandal instead of side-stepping the accusations like in past years or at other academic institutions where this is happening. I think that piece of the scandal is equally as newsworthy as the other elements of the story. Just a thought.

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