Retired UNC faculty urge current staffers to confront academic scandal

dkane@newsobserver.comApril 4, 2014 

More than 30 retired faculty are challenging their colleagues at UNC-Chapel Hill to seek answers from the administration about how a long-running academic fraud began and continued to run unchecked for more than a decade.

The retired faculty members include prominent scholars such as history professor William E. Leuchtenburg and religious studies professor Ruel Tyson. In a letter to be published in Friday’s News & Observer, they say the current faculty has been too quiet about the scandal, allowing the administration to engage in failed “public relations” strategies that have so far avoided key questions such as, “(To) what degree and how detrimentally have athletes in revenue sports been exploited, and in what ways have they been neglected or betrayed as students?”

“The failure to confront these questions suggests a faculty that has abdicated its responsibilities,” the retired professors wrote.

Concerns regarding the lack of faculty involvement have surfaced several times since the university confirmed two years ago the existence of dozens of lecture-style courses within the African studies department that never met. Typically, a paper was assigned and a high grade received with little or no interaction with a professor.

Michael Hunt, a retired history professor, and Madeline Levine, a retired Slavic literatures professor, came up with the idea for a letter last week after Hunt asked several alums about the scandal over lunch. Both have been vocal in their concerns about the university’s handling of the scandal.

“The point that came back to me very forcefully was, ‘Where are the faculty?’ ” Hunt said.

Efforts to reach Faculty Council leader Jan Boxill were unsuccessful. Last year, The N&O reported efforts by Boxill to remove language within a faculty report into the scandal that suggested an athletic motive in its creation and continuance. Boxill had said that passage included innuendo that some on the council’s executive committee didn’t think belonged in the report.

In February, the university and the UNC system announced that a new investigation would begin, led by Kenneth Wainstein, a former top U.S. Justice Department official. It is the third probe intended to get to the bottom of the scandal. The prior two have been criticized for not digging deep enough into the scandal’s connections to athletics. One was done by the university; the second was led by former Gov. Jim Martin.

Chancellor Carol Folt said Thursday in an email that she welcomes “the perspectives of our retired faculty, but their letter appears to ignore the efforts of many deeply committed faculty, and the real progress in terms of reforms and additional oversight that Carolina has made in just the last few years … The progress we are making today is very real.”

‘Embarrassing exercise’

The retired faculty took issue with an event at last week’s Board of Trustees meeting in which several athletes talked about their studies and spoke favorably of the tutoring program that assists them.

“The recent presentation to the Trustees by several accomplished student-athletes whose work as students has not been impugned was one more embarrassing exercise in avoiding the heart of the issue,” the professors wrote.

One administrator who disagreed with that statement is Susan King, the dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. One of the athletes who spoke at the presentation was basketball player Marcus Paige, who is seeking a major in the college.

“I disagree with the retired faculty that that’s an embarrassment,” King said. “I think it is an embarrassment if we don’t get to the clear questions that are on the table (about the scandal), but I feel the university is trying to do that.”

Kane: 919-829-4861; Twitter: @dankanenando

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