Friday, July 20, 2012

Academic embarrassment is worse

The news just keeps getting worse for the University of North Carolina. The NCAA has vacated the football team's wins for the past two seasons and declared the Tar Heels ineligible for post-season play this year. And today's paper brings the news that superstar Hakeem Nicks' records at Carolina are being erased, or at least asterisked, because Nicks was involved in the same academic scandal that has tarnished so many other football players.

For those whose blood runs Carolina blue (and I'll spare you the number of relatives over three or four generations my wife and I have who attended Carolina), the NCAA sanctions, the reversal of winning seasons and the banned-for-life players are nothing compared to the embarrassment of the academic scandal that apparently was interwoven with the athletics scandal. It's not just athletes getting impermissible help in writing papers from a too-helpful tutor. It's the faux classes reserved for football players, classes where those on the roster didn't have to attend and didn't have to do any class work to get their A's that would guarantee them eligibility to continue the fraudulent title of "student athlete."

Universities can survive the embarrassment of a sports program that falls off the tightrope of the NCAA's picayune rules. The embarrassment at Carolina goes much deeper. These allegations go to the heart of what a university is — a place of academic inquiry and intellectual rigor where the best students excel. UNC has allowed its aspirations of athletic prowess to undermine its hard-won and deserved reputation for academic excellence.

I have no doubt that UNC-Chapel Hill provides a solid, rigorous and valuable education. Its undergraduate and graduate programs are highly rated, and its alumni are fiercely loyal. But the few exceptions made to accommodate enrolled athletes who were not prepared for or qualified for higher education eats away the foundations of a 223-year-old institution.

UNC's hallowed halls rang with the debate of academic excellence and freedom long before college football and the NCAA ever existed. UNC will survive this self-inflicted stab in the back, but the scar from this wound will not fade for many years, and that is the embarrassment all Carolina alumni must bear.

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