The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

August 26, 2013

When the guardians fail at their own job

Monday, August 26, 2013 — RALEIGH — It remains to be seen whether the scandals that have rocked athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will slowly begin to fade away or if some new revelation awaits around the corner.

A criminal probe by the State Bureau of Investigation apparently goes on. The sleepy-eyed watchdog of college athletics called the NCAA may be embarking on a return engagement to Chapel Hill to examine cars driven by basketball players which happened to be rented by convicted drug dealers.

Elected state leaders, meanwhile, have shown little interest in addressing a topic that has clearly damaged the reputation of the flagship university. And UNC system president Tom Ross and his board of governors mostly fiddle.

The saddest aspect of the scandal, though, won’t be found in any of the responses from those persons or entities.

That distinction falls to the school’s own faculty.

Reporting by Dan Kane of The News & Observer of Raleigh, over the last two months, makes clear that key faculty representatives care more about protecting athletics than the academic mission and reputation of the university.

Kane’s reporting shows that Jan Boxill, chair of the school’s Faculty Executive Committee, convinced a three-member faculty panel to rewrite portions of a report examining the scandal by dropping specific references to connections between an academic department administrator and the athletics department.

“The worry is that this could further raise NCAA issues and that is not the intention,” Boxill wrote in an email.

The responses from Boxill and her colleagues since the newspaper’s revelations have been laughable.

She attributed the suggestion for changes, in part, to potential confusion regarding the phrase “athletic supporter” with that of a “jock strap.” Her colleagues responded with statements of support and letters to the newspaper essentially saying how dare it question her ethics.

She is an ethics professor, after all. She also once served as women’s basketball coach at the University of Tampa and has been an academic adviser to student-athletes at UNC-CH.

That background did not prevent the ethics professor from stepping into what many would view as an ethical conflict of interest by inserting herself into the process.

The revelations of Boxill’s actions come after further email correspondence makes obvious what she appeared to want to exclude from the report: collusion between counselors for athletes and academics to set up bogus classes.

That email correspondence, also reported on by Kane, shows former department head Julius Nyang’oro and his administrator setting up bogus courses at the behest of academic counselors for athletes. There are even email exchanges in which those involved worry about regular students getting in on the fun.

It’s exactly this type of collusion that UNC-Chapel Hill administrators and board of governors members have been denying occurred.

Their response when it is proven: Nothing new here, move along.

But when the only real guardians of a university’s academic mission, the faculty, have become just as cowed and compromised by big-time athletics, what do you expect?

Scott Mooneyham is a syndicated columnist for Capitol Press Association and covers activities of the N.C. Legislature.

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