Widespread academic corruption lets UNC sports off the hook

Years ago, after it came to light that athletes at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill took bogus courses in African and Afro-American studies, I wrote;

In my opinion, based on the facts I’ve seen so far, this story isn’t about football; it’s about academic corruption.

Now, after years of investigating, the NCAA has reached basically the same conclusion. As a result, the University will not by sanctioned by the governing body of college athletics.

The Washington Post reports:

One of the worst academic scandals in the history of college sports ended with a whimper Friday, with the NCAA ruling it will not punish the University of North Carolina’s athletics department for deficient “paper courses” taken by thousands of students, many of them athletes, over nearly two decades.

In a decision released Friday morning, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions concluded that because the lenient classes in the school’s African and Afro-American studies department — which never met, rarely involved university faculty and often provided passing grades in exchange for one short paper graded by a university secretary — were also taken by regular students, NCAA investigators couldn’t prove the classes constituted an unfair benefit for North Carolina athletes.

The New York Times says this ruling “caused head-scratching everywhere except Chapel Hill.” If so, it’s only because liberals are in denial about the state of higher education in general and African-American studies in particular, and have turned a blind eye to the natural consequences of race-based preferential admission policies.

I take no position here on whether the NCAA should have penalized the University’s sports programs. But the key factual findings that form the basis for the NCAA’s ruling appear to be true and the rationale for its decision is coherent.

The sham courses were, indeed, available to all students. In fact, the majority of students who took them were non-athletes. Thus, it was reasonable to conclude that the University did not provide its athletes with an unfair benefit.

It’s possible that the sham courses existed for the purpose of helping athletes maintain their eligibility, and that other students simply took advantage of a benefit created and/or maintained for jocks. However, the NCAA apparently found no evidence that this was the case.

Nor should we assume that the courses were created or maintained for the benefit of athletes. More likely, they were created and maintained to benefit a much larger class of students — those who struggled in real courses.

Many of the University’s athletes in high profile sports, especially football and basketball, fell into that category, and why not? They were admitted with inferior academic credentials (grades and/or test scores) and had to deal with the pressure and demands of competing in big-time sports.

But the athletes weren’t the only students admitted with inferior academic credentials. Students admitted to the University pursuant to race-based preferences also fit this description. Naturally some, and probably many, of these students would struggle if required to take a full load of real courses.

Thus, the sham courses were a natural (though particularly egregious) consequence of race-based admissions preferences. Their existence can be explained without positing a desire to help athletes inl particular. It’s quite possible — I would say probable — that this desire also existed. However, the determinative factor was likely a desire to relax standards for students admitted to the University pursuant to racial preferences. In other words, the sham courses were more an adjunct to the preferential admissions program than an adjunct to the athletics department.

The sham courses were also a natural outgrowth of the lack of rigor that’s often associated with Black Studies. As I said when I first wrote about this scandal:

I doubt it’s any accident that the corruption occurred in a Black studies department, the wildest precinct in the wild west of academia. Administrators have little reason to hold such departments accountable. Why would an administrator risk the ire of campus minorities, not to mention accusations of racism, in the name of ensuring rigor (or at least some degree of seriousness) in a department that he or she may well consider something of a joke to begin with?

Especially when the lack of rigor helps sustain both race-based preferences and quality sports teams.


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