Commentary

Linda Haac: Folt’s first step

January 31, 2014 

FINALLY… Finally… finally …UNC has acknowledged what the rest of the world already knows and has been talking about for months: The university bears responsibility for the scandal that has compromised its athletic and academic integrity.

Before new Chancellor Carol Folt spoke out at the Board of Trustees’ meeting a little more than a week ago, the university had taken the stance that somehow the fault rested with everybody but Carolina as an institution.

Even after a report by former Gov. Jim Martin, claiming this was not an athletic scandal but an academic scandal, credibility was not restored. One has to ask, moreover, why an academic scandal is better than an athletic one? What’s the main business of UNC anyway: sports or learning?

When The News and Obsever was mainly reporting the unfolding story, UNC must have hoped the story, like a gnat, would eventually buzz off. Then the heavy hitters of the national media, “those outsiders,” took notice. After the indictment of former African-American Studies Department Chairman Julius Nyang’oro, The New York Times did a front-page story, followed by an editorial in that paper. Then came the CNN report that appears to have led to Folt’s statement before the trustees.

Good for her – and good for Carolina! FINALLY … Finally … finally …although as any good public-relations person will tell you, it’s only the first step.

This was never about a young woman who was a tutor and friend to Carolina athletes, first to be faulted. Or just about a football coach, who was then fired. Or about two lone actors in the African-American Studies Department, one of whom has since been indicted. Or about a learning specialist conducting research into UNC basketball players’ reading levels, research that Provost Jim Dean has called “a travesty.”

Interestingly, neither Dean nor basketball coach Roy Williams addressed the question of how well Carolina’s basketball players can read. Rather they concentrated on trying in various ways to discredit their latest critic.

But in the end, from this outsider’s perspective, it has looked as the story has unfolded, whether true or not, like stonewalling.

A public trial of Nyang’oro threatens to bring into national focus all of the problems with big-time college sports. Although the story may not get the kind of coverage that the Duke lacrosse scandal did, it isn’t something Carolina supporters will relish.

As with every scandal, big or small, the answer lies at the top. It doesn’t matter exactly who knew what, what was said or what wasn’t. It matters, instead, the climate created and what arises out of that climate, how an institution decides to conduct itself, what kind of oversight it wants to have of its athletic programs and whether those at the top decide to look the other way about certain indiscretions. It’s about how people in and out perceive Carolina and what the university stands for.

Perhaps, most troubling about this whole scandal is the extent to which UNC has exhibited some of the more troubling aspects associated with how we in the South have dealt with problems in the past: complacency, secrecy, blaming others, looking for scapegoats, condescension, truculence and being affronted.

In the long run, it won’t work. Better to face your troubles and do something about them. Chancellor Folt has taken the first step and UNC’s credibility depends on her taking several more. It’s unlikely to be enough to have Provost Jim Dean and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham lead a review of the situation.

FINALLY … Finally … finally, however, there’s hope.

Linda Haac lives in Carrboro.

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