A (Counter) Q&A on the UNC Scandal

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There have been statements made, numerous articles written, and intense and widespread speculation about this case during the past five years. The temptation to use public speculation and other unverified information is a very real part of this case. – UNC Response to NCAA Amended Notice of Allegations, August 1, 2016

After five years of sensationalized media coverage, a more accurate narrative about UNC’s paper-class scandal is finally beginning to circulate.

No one denies that what happened in UNC’s African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department makes for an embarrassing chapter in the history of the nation’s oldest public university. As I have consistently argued for the past two and half years, the paper-class scandal exposes a troubling reality of American research universities: the utter disregard for teaching quality at the undergraduate level. How else do we explain the failure of UNC deans to notice that the chair of the AFAM department essentially skipped class for more than a decade?

Yet because the paper classes came to light in the wake of an actual athletics scandal, reporters — no less susceptible to confirmation bias than the rest of us — were immediately convinced that athletics was behind this new scandal. Thus, the press framed the narrative as one of academic fraud perpetuated by athletics even before the facts came in, and that narrative became the filter through which the public interpreted emerging information about the case. Despite subsequently discovered facts to the contrary, commentators and rival fans remained certain the UNC scandal was driven by a corrupt athletics department.

As writer Walter Kirn once stated, “This is how it works now with the news: the story begins with a moral, then a narrative is fashioned to support it.”

The moral, of course, is justified: college athletics is long overdue for reform. However, reformers were overly eager for the definitive case study in athletics corruption, and they seized on the UNC case without acknowledging its nuances. Reformers believed they found a textbook case of academic fraud perpetuated by athletics, but their case was far more fictional than factual.

Nevertheless, with the passing of time — and despite the persistence of blowhards such as Kent Sterling — the public discourse on the UNC scandal is becoming more reasonable, and onlookers are beginning to realize that the scandal was not what the news media initially portrayed it as.

Following UNC’s response to the NCAA’s amended notice of allegations this week, I believe now is an appropriate time to clarify the issues further for those still trying to discern fact from fiction. Rather than develop my own set of questions for a Q&A, I’ve decided to counter N&O reporter Dan Kane’s Q&A from earlier this year. In so doing, I hope not only to add clarity to the discourse but also to illuminate the way Kane has misconstrued the facts to support the news media’s narrative.

Kane’s Q&A

Kane’s first question in his Q&A regards the legitimacy of the paper classes, and his answer is enough on its own to demonstrate his narrative-driven approach to reporting.

Q: Weren’t these legitimate, but easy classes?

A: No. Deborah Crowder, the former administrative manager in the African and Afro-American Studies department, was not a professor. She didn’t have a master’s degree, let alone a Ph.D. She created and graded the classes on her own, though at some point in the scheme department chairman Julius Nyang’oro became aware of them.

Although Kane’s answer is technically factual, he leaves out critical information that significantly affects the way we understand the situation: (1) the students taking the paper classes didn’t know Crowder was just an office manager without the authority to manage the classes on her own, and (2) no student received credit for the classes without completing the required work. In other words, from the students’ perspective, the paper classes were indeed legitimate (albeit easy). Therefore, referring to them as “fake,” as Kane consistently does, is misleading.

Q: Didn’t Crowder begin offering the fake classes to help all students?

A: This claim is pegged to a finding in the Wainstein Report that “Crowder and Nyang’oro were primarily motivated to offer these classes by a desire to help struggling students and student-athletes.”

But the report also says that Crowder began the fake classes in 1993 after counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes complained about athletes having to meet with Nyang’oro regularly and provide updates on their work as part of an independent study. These requirements are typical for an independent study.

Actually, the belief that Crowder was motivated to help all struggling students was originally based on an email Kane himself reported on several months prior to the Wainstein Report. In that email, Crowder explained to a campus advisor, “Some or all of our students come in for advising, or cause us problems, or are wonderful, or whatever, but sometimes I think the athletes get too much scrutiny in relation to the average student population. That being said, we try to accommodate their schedules, just as we do the single moms, or the students who have to work two jobs to stay in school.”

Crowder undoubtedly felt sympathy for athletes, but she felt equal sympathy for single moms and other struggling students.

Furthermore, to be frank, I am perplexed every time Kane cites the anecdote regarding the counselors’ complaints over Nyang’oro’s independent studies. Wainstein provided no verification for that anecdote. In fact, he didn’t even indicate who shared the anecdote with him, nor does he appear to have queried the accused counselors about it. The anecdote simply appears, unverified, in the Wainstein Report.

In the Martin Report two years prior to Wainstein, Kane discovered a similarly unverified anecdote, leading him and his N&O colleagues to dismiss the entire report. Yet Kane has repeatedly cited Wainstein’s unverified anecdote as the foundation of the N&O’s post-Wainstein narrative.

Of course, the N&O’s dismissal of the Martin Report over one unverified anecdote was ridiculous. And Kane’s continued use of Wainstein’s unverified anecdote is not only hypocritical but contrary to journalism as a discipline of verification. The N&O’s contradictory handling of these unverified anecdotes only reveals the doggedness with which they have endeavored to shape the narrative into one about academic fraud perpetuated by athletics.

Q: Crowder provided them “paper classes” that gave athletes a high grade, and more time to spend on their sport. Didn’t athletes make up slightly less than half of the enrollments in the classes?

A: Yes. But those enrollment numbers reinforce the prominent role that athletes played in the scandal. First, athletes make up less than 5 percent of the student body, but they made up roughly half of the students in the classes, with football and men’s basketball players the heaviest users. More than 1,500 athletes took at least one fake class.

Second, athletes accounted for half of the 30 students who enrolled in four or more of those fake classes that were identified as independent studies. Of the 154 students who took five or more fake classes that were falsely labeled as lecture classes, more than two-thirds were athletes.

Kane and others in the news media frequently make this point that athletes were disproportionately enrolled in the paper classes (representing less than 5% of the student body yet nearly 50% of paper-class enrollments). However, those reporters and commentators fail to take into account the high rates of African Americans among football and basketball players. While UNC’s student body is consistently around 10% African American, the football and basketball teams are at times more than 50% African American. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that football and basketball players enrolled in AFAM classes at higher rates than the general student body.

In response to Kane’s cherrypicked enrollment statistics, consider these other numbers:

  • If Crowder had devised the paper-class”scheme” specifically for athletes, we’d likely see significantly more athletes than non-athletes in those first few classes. Instead, we see the opposite: the first four paper classes had only 11 athletes enrolled (two men’s basketball players, four football players, and five women’s basketball players), compared to 46 non-athletes.
  • Overall, there were more paper classes with exclusively non-athletes enrolled (20) than there were paper classes with exclusively athletes enrolled (18). Again, if Crowder had devised the classes specifically to benefit athletes, we likely wouldn’t see so many classes with exclusively non-athletes enrolled.

As much as Kane has tried to present statistics that support the narrative of academic fraud perpetuated by athletics, the numbers just don’t add up.

Kane’s Missing Question

While Kane’s misleading answers to his own questions make his agenda obvious, his failure to ask the following question is even more telling: Did any academic administrators know about the paper classes?

Wainstein provided evidence that at least four deans knew the paper classes didn’t require attendance. Moreover, one of those deans even told an athletics official that faculty have the autonomy to conduct their classes as such. Another of those deans was the administrator who supervised the director of academic support for student-athletes and even referred students to the paper classes himself. Word traveled from the deans to the academic counselors that the paper classes were a matter of academic freedom, and the counselors thus saw no reason to question the classes’ legitimacy. (Wainstein did allege that five counselors also knew Crowder graded the papers, but he later contradicted his evidence in a letter to Butch Davis.)

The deans’ knowledge and validation of the paper classes bring us full circle to Kane’s first question, “Weren’t these legitimate, but easy classes?” If Crowder was indeed managing the classes and grading the papers without Nyang’oro’s involvement, then one can reasonably argue the classes weren’t “legitimate.” However, one must acknowledge that the rest the story complicates the matter. Because students completed work for the classes, and because academic counselors believed the classes to be approved by the deans, one can also reasonably argue the classes were actually “legitimate.”

Regardless of whether we label the paper classes “legitimate,” a more fundamental question remains: Did the paper classes constitute academic fraud perpetuated by athletics?

To that, we can assert an unequivocal and resounding no.

The paper classes were the misguided effort of an office administrator trying to help struggling students, and the classes persisted because the deans were negligent in monitoring teaching quality. No matter how sincere one may be in their belief, those who continue to propagate the athletics corruption narrative do so with little regard for the facts.

Public Discourse

When CBS commentator Jon Solomon refers to the paper-class scandal as “the worst academic fraud case in college sports history,” he reveals himself to be one of those people who have little regard for the facts. Corporate media outlets like CBS will continue to peddle sensationalism through commentators (or do they call themselves reporters?) like Solomon, and there’s little that reasonable people can do about it other than refrain from clicking.

Yet over the past few months I have seen the public discourse on the paper-class scandal evolve to become less sensationalized and more tempered, and I feel optimistic that a more accurate narrative will soon eclipse the news media’s distorted narrative.

UNC sociologist Andrew Perrin made that very point when I interviewed him for my documentary Unverified. “At some point, and I actually think that point is pretty soon, the kind of vocal critics out there are going to be reduced to the people who are fans of competing institutions,” Perrin averred. He went on to explain that amidst any controversy “everybody gets their stuff out there and sort of competes for truth and accuracy and convincingness in a public sphere that’s racked fundamentally by conflict.” Yet citizens of a democracy eventually work through that conflict, and Perrin believes that “ultimately people in the world prefer reasoned and thoughtful and careful claims over hysterical ones.”

Reasoned. Thoughtful. Careful. The public discourse on the UNC scandal isn’t there yet, but I’ve felt a shift in that direction. We’ll gradually get there, and I’m grateful to have contributed to the change.


Bradley Bethel is the writer and director of the award-winning documentary Unverified: The Untold Story Behind the UNC Scandal, now available on Vimeo On Demand and soon available on DVD.

Unverified: The Untold Story Behind the UNC Scandal from Bradley Bethel on Vimeo.

61 thoughts on “A (Counter) Q&A on the UNC Scandal

  1. During my days as a student in Chapel Hill (66-70), there were rumors that some professors would give As to students about to lose draft deferments due to academic failure. The political nature of the war in Vietnam resulted in a less-than-friendly response from some faculty members and support from others. I was aware of a classmate who needed an A to stay in school but who deserved no more than a C on the merits of his performance. He asked and got his A, higher than my grade even though I was certain my performance deserved an A if his did. I did not complain. He could do better work the next time, but only if he were not murdered by the draft.

    Did Ms. Crowder create a politically justified grade inflation to help poorly prepared students have chance to catch up academically? We all know that educational opportunities are not equally available to most ethnic minorities and, especially, the children of the poor. I’m OK with this approach to lend a helping hand.

    BUT…

    I understand that Marvin (I prefer not to mention his full name, I’m still pissed at him and the coaching staff) was in a graduate level AFAM class needing credits to qualify for football, when his high school record probably would have denied admission except for the undue influence of football. I consider this level of dishonesty and chicanery from the Davis era was properly identified as prohibited by the NCAA investigators. Marvin was obviously being used by Davis to win football glory; Marvin was not being given a leg up to improve his academic permanence, he was being kept eligible. And that, I believe, is the difference between a corrupt “Big Boy Football” coach and a well-meaning academic secretary. He may have used his players, she tried to help struggling students. The coach put himself at risk of being named a lowlife, the secretary was guilty of planned acts of compassion and concern. Unfortunately, this compassion was at odds with University rules.

    The coach had been hired to win at any cost (my judgment at the time of hiring) after a coach of few wins had been fired for not winning enough. The secretary may have been acting in the way she had hoped she would have been treated as an undergraduate, herself. As the wheel of fate turned, some of the administrators who permitted academically unprepared athletes to matriculate simply to grace the athletic fields found themselves embarrassed. But the students who should never have been admitted suffered academic failure, probably unearned shaming by other students, and they lost the opportunity to attend on scholarship a less rigorous school.

    We at UNC should be issuing an apology to the wronged students. They did not admit themselves.

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  2. In your third graph, you say “(t)hus, the press framed the narrative as one of ACADEMIC (my emphasis) fraud even before the facts came in, and that narrative became the filter through which the public interpreted emerging information about the case” when I think you mean ATHLETIC instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You also ask “How else do we explain the failure of UNC deans to notice that the chair of the AFAM department essentially skipped class for more than a decade?” If the university had at the time had rules that mandated an audit every five years for departments that did not offer graduate programs, the university would have been forced to confront Crowder after at most five years. That it didn’t, and that the department’s very existence had been controversial since its inception made it possible for this to drift for years.

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  4. DB tried to help accommodate schedules of athletes, single moms, etc., , not raise their GP’s. I’ve made point to DK that large number of athletes is not unexpected in AFAM, since black athletes make up large percentage of black students, and it is blacks who dominate AFAM enrollment. He wants to compare number of athletes in AFAM to number of students at UNC. Comparison should be number of black athletes in AFAM to number of black students in AFAM, just as you have done. Both of my points are never emphasized in press.

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  5. So we have been victimized and now the real truth is out. Problem is the damage was, is and will continue to be done to the University and sports programs. Just looking at basketball, think of the great players who have come forward to say they would have gone to UNC if not for the cloud. We lost potentially more than National Championship due to losing players who were afraid to enroll during the false lambasting of UNC! I believe jealously is at the root of most of the rush to judge before the true facts were out. Shame on competing schools, alumni and the press for jumping to false conclusions! UNC is one of the finest institutions in the US. Let he who is without sin throw the first accusation! I am disappointed in those who jumped on UNC!

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  6. To Jerry Hollingsworth, your assumption that Butch Davis was hired to win at any cost, one that you admitted to making at the time of his hiring, discredits your commentary. Coach Davis was brought into a mess at Miami to clean up behind his predecessor. He was able to accomplish that and at the same time, win. That he was hired by UNC to win should be obvious. He certainly wasn’t hired to lose. My guess is that this is just another expression of the disdain for big time athletics that is taken to the extreme by the likes of Jay Smith and his ilk. Butch Davis was punished more severely than any other person in this sorry saga. It’s about time to take the responsibility for this off of his back and lay it where it really belongs and that is entirely on the academic side.

    As far as admitting students that couldn’t do the work, I don’t believe that Marvin Austin or any of the rest COULDN’T do the work. They simply weren’t required to and that, as the rest of it, isn’t on Butch Davis or his staff or the academic support staff. It is on the students and on the academic administration that failed to insist that meaningful work be performed. The failure to supervise an entire academic department over two decades is inexcusable and in retrospect, predictable.

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    • I was told by a very active (but probably not very influential) member of the RAMS (I am a member simply to get basketball tickets) that “Dickie is not going to be the one who decides who the next football coach will be. It is too important to leave to the AD.”

      I suspect that the coach knew who to heed.

      And do the last names “Blake” and “Austin” ring any bells? Or poor Michael McAdoo? I believe Blake did the dirty recruiting under his friend the head coach, Austin pocketed the money, and players such as McAdoo got the shaft.

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  7. So, Rashad McCants, who admitting doing no work for his four As in the spring of 2005, is a victim? He is a bright dean’s list achiever, yet because his story does not fit the Unvetified narrative, he is discounted. To say that some athletes were not kept athletically eligible through these fake, yes fake classes, is ridiculous. I have no doubt that many students who took AFAM classes did their own work, but clearly some did not. If those who did no work could be identified, we might see the “scandal”, was really only about a handful of athletes who handed in a recycled paper, or one written by a tutor. The media may have overblown the scandal, but it is difficult to tell by how much since we are not holding ourselves accountable for the few who actually did cheat. I do not like what my UNC degree has become in the eyes of many.

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    • Rashad was not “kept” eligible in the spring of 2005 by any classes he took in the spring of 2005. If you knew anything at all about what you were talking about, you would know that Rashad could have done no work and flunked every course in the spring of 2005 and still been eligible that semester. Eligibility is based on work in prior semesters.

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  8. John: I had a few classes taught by TAs, but there was a professor assigned to the course who occasionally lectured, but at least we know who the professor was. I never had a secretary grade my paper though, that sounds a little sketchy. No wonder the media smelled blood in the water. 18 years you say, seems like somebody in charge may have known something, unless tgey did not want to.

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  9. I don’think this so called scandal will affect recruiting, we are favored for Carter and Bamba in 2017, I see us eadily getting both, and maybe adding Ayton as a backup.

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  10. Jeff:

    I am banning you from posting again, because I am too insecure to allow any deviation from the UNC sunshine pumper talking points.

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  11. Meeks is looking good this year. He really slimmed down andwill be jumping out of the building. I say this every year but this year I teally, really mean it. Lotto pick, mark it down.

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  12. The way I read the whole thing is it is unverified only because just a few people told the truth and the rest refused to talk or never ponied up their transcript.

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  13. Britt is switching back to his left hand for shooting this year, after he previously switched from his left hand to his right hand after his freshman year. I will take a senior Britt over a freshman Frank Jackson all day long.

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  14. Independent studies are for good students at a real university. No one is offering that and just a plagarized paper at the end. Very simple really.

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    • Said by a true Dookie, clearly the athletes need easier classes to stay eligible, Crowder said as much in Wainstein et al. Classes which require little to no time commitment are key.

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    • These 3* players Roy is offering are deliberately being underated so no one big will offer them, then once they get to UNC they will blow up and have multiple final 4 teams. This is brilliant. A recruits father here in TN swore to me it is true.

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    • Sorry, took a break to scout some top talent for 2019. MJ scored three touchdowns, same as the number of times he took the same geography class. Least he had the cojones to let someone steal his transcript and post it.

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      • I lnew you know nothing about basketball. He was a 3 point shooter and just because he took a nunch of entry level classes as a junior neans nothing.

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  15. Just watched Unverifiable on Watchmovies.net. WOW!. How can anyone be against UNC with all of this unbelievable evidence that has been gathered? This has been a real ramrod by martin and Wainstein against the heels. Sounds like they may have just made most of it up.

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    • The Heels are completely innocent, several people fired hy UNC should be able to collect damages from being fired for doubg nothing wrong, i am reading about Jan Boxill, and am starting to believe she was dcapegoated by the nedia.

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  16. Michael Jordan sctually played baseball at UNC after BB season. Not too many people lnow that. I saw him hit a homerun at the ACC tornament in Greensboro once. That is why he wuit basketball in the middle of his career, he had done so well in college.

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  17. I for one enjoyed the film. It reminded me of the time I had my head shaved with a cheese grater while biting on tin foil.

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  18. I was a bit skeptical of the film until I watched it. Then I knew it was clearly an attempt to make it look like UNC was mot giving away grades to players . Hell they already admitted it ad the emails laid put the entire scheme. I guess we are all morons if we dont belive this fairt tale.

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  19. The film had a certain quality to it that I at first could not identify. But today I was driving by a dairy farm and once I smelled it I remembered.

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  20. Apparently UNC BB coaches don’t lnow what their players are doing off the court and judging by the llast 6 years vs. Duke, on the court either.

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  21. Just want to advise, above comments alleged to be from myself, Mike Irby, or gary 7 were not made by us. WE are being trolled by some nut jobs from a message board.

    From my aspect, GREAT JOB BRADLEY!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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