Underreported Protect-the-Jocks Scandals at UNC and Harvard

Two recent academic-tinged scandals in college athletics seem saturated in political correctness.

At the University of North Carolina, some student-athletes (as well as some non-athletes) benefited from taking no-show classes. The university brought in former governor Jim Martin to conduct a blue-ribbon review; Martin’s report indicated that the problem was solely on the academic side of things, and the controversy was supposed to go away.

All of the no-show classes came from a single department–African, African-American, and Diaspora Studies. The UNC website currently indicates that 14 professors teach in the department. (Some have joint appointments with other departments.) Then-department chairman Julius Nyang’oro was forced into retirement, but there’s no indication that the department suffered in any way: it wasn’t placed into receivership, it doesn’t appear to have lost any faculty lines, and apparently the department’s budget wasn’t reduced.

UNC consistently described the event as solely an academic scandal–and yet took no meaningful action against the department that violated all academic norms. Would the administration have been so passive if the offending department had been biology, or computer science?

In the event, the latest exposé in the case from the Raleigh News & Observer gave the lie to the UNC administration’s assurances. N&O reporter Dan Kane uncovered newly-released e-mails–e-mails that the Martin Commission either did not see or simply ignored–showing that Nyang’oro “had a cozy relationship with the program that tutored athletes, even as UNC officials had “said the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes did not collaborate with Nyang’oro or his department manager.” UNC officials were either unreachable or simply misled (claiming that the e-mails had no new information) in response to Kame’s queries.

If the scandal had affected biology or computer science, rather than a center of campus political correctness, would an apparent attempt to cover up the extent of the wrongdoing have occurred?

Another type of athletics-related academic scandal surfaced a few days ago at Harvard. Each year, the NCAA releases an APR (academic progress rate) for all Division I athletics programs. To avoid some form of sanctions, teams need a minimum score of 925 (on a 1000-point level) over a four-year period. This is a very low threshold, and normally only catches a handful of poorly-funded teams. (UConn basketball’s postseason ban last year was a rare exception to this pattern.)

Normally, and for unsurprising reasons, Ivy League teams do very well in the APR. Take, for instance, Brown’s most recent figures for its men’s teams: 991 (football), 989 (men’s basketball), ice hockey (1000). Harvard is similarly high–except in one sport, men’s basketball, which won the school’s first NCAA tournament game this season. The rolling four-year average was 956, by far the lowest in the Ivy League. The annual APR’s were even lower–as the statistical site NYCbuckets noted, the annual APR has dropped three years in a row, with it ranking at a sanctions-level 914 and 925 in the two most recent years. By comparison, the APR for the men’s basketball team at the University of Kentucky was 963.

There’s been no indication that Harvard’s diversity-obsessed president, Drew Faust, has any problems with the academic performance of the team, helmed by the school’s only African-American coach, Tommy Amaker. Indeed, just last month, the Harvard Foundation conferred upon Amaker the Harvard Foundation Leadership Award for Outstanding Leadership in Harvard Athletics and Excellence in Fostering Character, Integrity, and Intercultural Cooperation in College Athletics.

If the Harvard golf team had the lowest APR in the league, and had a lower APR than a national program not exactly known for its academic rigor, would President Faust have remained silent?


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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