Tuesday, August 14, 2012

UNC: Give yourself the 'death penalty'

The news — and the embarrassment — just keeps getting worse at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Today's News & Observer reports on a leaked transcript of football superstar Julius Peppers' days at Chapel Hill. The transcript shows that Peppers was, to say the least, a marginal student who was bailed out by a series of classes he took in the African and Afro-American Studies Department. Peppers majored in African and Afro-American Studies, a major that qualifies you for two kinds of jobs — teaching African and Afro-American Studies or professional athlete. (The latter pays better.)

The implication of this leaked transcript — beyond the fact that the university might be in violation of a federal law requiring that student academic records be kept top secret — is that the academic embarrassment of non-existent courses, special consideration for athletes, tutors and advisers who kept athletes' heads above the academic flood, and a disconnect between the university's academic mission and its athletic practices have existed for at least a decade in Chapel Hill. The withdrawal of football wins, the firing of a coach, the banishment of football players and the post-season ban by the NCAA are minor annoyances compared to the shame of subverting a great university into a football factory.

UNC does not seem to have grasped just how discrediting these athletic misdemeanors are. More drastic action is needed to put the whole episode (however far back it goes) into context.

Here's my suggestion: UNC should give itself the "death penalty." It should shut down the football program for one year, maybe two, and if the basketball, baseball, soccer or other sports programs are shown to be involved in these transgressions, shut them down, too. Spend that year or two examining the university's priorities and studying the ways academics were subjugated by intercollegiate athletics. Establish a protocol to ensure that never again will unqualified students be admitted because they can dunk a basketball or catch a football, never again will student athletes be given a pass on academic standards and never again will an academic department be established for the apparent purpose of keeping athletes in school with inflated grades. Television contracts and coaches' exorbitant salaries should also be examined. While football is suspended, the African and Afro-American Studies program should be examined and either absorbed into other disciplines or re-established as a genuine academic pursuit.

The football fans will scream, as they did when Coach Butch Davis was fired, but more is at stake here than a dozen football games; the university's entire reputation and qualifications are in jeopardy because sometime in the past, some university officials decided winning ball games was more important than educating North Carolina's students.

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