Two years ago, I wrote about academic fraud involving the department of African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The fraud extended to more than 50 different classes. It ranged from no-show professors to unauthorized grade changes for students.
Many of the students who took the bogus courses were members of the football or basketball team. Seeking to protect the image of its lucrative athletic programs and to avoid NCAA sanctions (which it has done), the University noted that the fraud was not limited to athletes and that the other students who enrolled in these courses also escaped having to do course work or, depending on the course, show up for class.
Sadly, there was some truth to the University’s “defense.” The corruption was at least as much about academics (an unaccountable department devoid of intellectual rigor) as about athletics.
But now the University’s athletic program indisputably is in the dock. Mary Willingham, the whistleblower who denounced the existence of the fake classes at UNC, alleges that a substantial percentage of the football and basketball players she worked with as an academic counselor could not read at anything close to a college level.
The University disputes this claim, as is its right. But it has also browbeaten Willingham to the point that she resigned.
The main browbeater is none other than University chancellor Carol Folt who, as provost of Dartmouth College, oversaw years of academic drift with an iron hand. In fact, Willingham’s resignation followed an hour long meeting with Folt which Willingham described as acrimonious. Willingham concluded from the meeting that “this chancellor has totally sold out.”
Our friend Joe Asch testifies, based on his experience unsuccessfully trying to preserve a successful writing program he funded at Dartmouth, that an hour long meeting with Folt can induce, at a minimum, a sense of resignation. Other sources tell me that attempts to raise with Folt the issue of grade inflation at Dartmouth were similarly unpleasant.
As Joe Asch puts it, “there are few discussions more dispiriting than talking to someone with no integrity.”
Bloomberg has been covering the story. It finds little to like in Folt’s attempts to discredit a messenger much of whose message the University has been forced to concede.
Indeed, Bloomberg’s reporter endorses the view of UNC history professor Jay Smith who argues:
The aggressiveness and the tenor of the attacks on Willingham. . .betray an anxiety -– a kind of panic — that goes far beyond a disagreement over [literacy] numbers [for UNC athletes]. The all-out assault reflects a fundamentally cynical strategy to discredit and defame someone who has embarrassing facts to reveal.
For Dartmouth alums who clashed with Folt and her backers, this sounds familiar.
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