UNC Scrambles for Crisis Management Amid Scandal

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A sign of deeper institutional issues?

It’s not exactly a secret that star school athletes are frequently given special treatment, and we’re surprised that it hasn’t created scandals for more educational institutions. Some of that may be changing though, after revelations of academic scandal dating back nearly twenty years at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A report from former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein dug up an incredible amount of dirt, including the fact that more than 3,100 students received grades they didn’t earn, including 123 football players, 24 basketball players, and 26 potential Olympians. According to the report, certain students were directed to so-called “paper classes” that required no attendance and were graded on a single research paper, many of which were blatantly plagiarized.

Two retired administrators were at the center of the scandal, but the report makes clear there was widespread knowledge of the program at the school, and already at least nine employees have been disciplined or straight-out fired from their jobs.

While UNC is, for the most part, taking a hands off approach to crisis management and letting regulators figure this one out, Chancellor Carol Folt did release a lengthy statement, some of which we’ve quoted below:

I recognize that the past few years have been challenging for our community, but today we have a full picture of what happened. I am deeply disappointed by the duration and the extent of the wrongdoing, as well as the lack of oversight that could have corrected it sooner. We could have saved so much anguish and, more importantly, protected the students and countless members of our community who played absolutely no role. My greatest hope is that we can restore your trust and ensure that you do not feel diminished by the bad actions of others.

It is important to separate the past from the present—and the future. Mr. Wainstein found that the irregularities were confined to one department, peaked almost a decade ago and ended in 2011. Since first learning of these irregularities four years ago, Carolina took action to stop the wrongdoing and implemented numerous additional reforms, and we continue to take actions that build on the initiatives currently in place.

We already are stronger as a result of our journey, not only from the reforms, but because of our willingness to accept responsibility. Now is our time to show how resilient we can be – how we are going to continue the process of deep soul-searching and self-reflection, and how we are going to use what we have learned to become better, stronger and even more proud of who we are as an institution.

While UNC is being forced to change out in the open, we’d bet there is some intense behind-the-scenes scrambling going on at other universities around the country.

Now we’re seeing many media outlets painting this as a problem isolated to the athletic departments as well, but in our eyes that’s a dangerous oversimplification of the situation. Cheating of this magnitude cannot possibly involve only those in athletics, and acting as if that’s the case isn’t helping schools better detect and prevent potential academic dishonesty. It’s an institutional issue, and that fact needs to be recognized before it can be addressed.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – dishonest and unethical practices can get you ahead. And heck, they may go unnoticed for 20 years. But, believe us, they WILL be revealed, and you’ll be left to face the consequences when it happens.

The BCM Blogging Team

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