UNC Presses Attack on Whistle-Blower in Fake Classes Scandal

from BW.com

With the $16 billion college sports industry under siege from lawsuits and player-unionization efforts, one academic scandal—at the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina—has come to represent key aspects of the debate about Division 1 football and basketball players. In response, UNC’s top leadership continues to try to deflect attention from widespread classroom misconduct by attacking the low-ranking staff tutor who helped reveal the scandal.

In 2011 the tutor, Mary Willingham, gave crucial assistance to Dan Kane, an intrepid reporter with the Raleigh News & Observer who uncovered the long-standing practice by academic advisers at Chapel Hill of steering basketball and football players into fake classes offered by the school’s black-studies department. The department pretended to offer lecture courses, but the classes never met. Students received A and B grades for submitting a single paper, which they often cobbled together from material copied from the Internet, according to Willingham.

University officials eventually acknowledged the main thrust of Willingham’s revelations: that more than 200 phony courses were offered and hundreds of grades were changed without authorization. In February, Bloomberg Businessweek published a cover article I wrote about Willingham and other secret academic enablers who keep the college sports business humming. CNNHBO, andESPN have broadcast important stories about the UNC fiasco.

More here.

10 Responses to UNC Presses Attack on Whistle-Blower in Fake Classes Scandal

  1. Hazelb February 23, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

    It is unfortunate that Willingham is being persecuted by her employer because she highlighted a flaw in the University’s athletics program. Student athletes are a great form of revenue for a school due to the high ticket sales, merchandising and endorsements. The University of North Carolina as well as many other schools sacrifice the education of a sports player in order to maintain the revenue in order to provide education to all the other student in the university. UNC Admissions considers high-performing athletes who have low SAT and GPA standings are considered to be “special admits” which means that employees are supposed to weigh the student’s athletic ability more than their academic performance. College athletes have spoken out requesting payment for their talents at their respective schools because these universities are profiting off of their talents. In August 2014, Judge Wilken of the United States District Court in California ruled that the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s policy that prohibited college athletes from being paid for their services. This judge determined that this policy is violating antitrust laws. Now universities are able to “offer football players in the top 10 conferences and all Division I men’s basketball players trust funds that can be tapped after graduation, giving players a chance to share in the billions of dollars in television revenue they help generate for their colleges and the N.C.A.A.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/09/sports/federal-judge-rules-against-ncaa-in-obannon-case.html?_r=0) Although schools are not required to subsidize their athletes, top-grossing Universities are now allowed to pay their student players. Hopefully, this case will lead to all schools paying their student athletes. It would be a great deterrent against helping students athletes cheat. The cost of every athlete will increase dramatically and school officials will second-guess if a particular student is worth creating fake courses and grades for.

  2. Brent Sindoni March 25, 2015 at 3:24 pm #

    One of the most satisfying feelings students can obtain is getting accepted into the colleges they apply for. Students worked hard in high school to get the best grades they could, and maybe played sports, participated in extra curricular activities, or volunteered to help boost their resume, just hoping the leadership skills and grades they gained would be enough to be accepted into their dream schools. With many top universities having lower acceptance rates, the ability to attend school at these colleges is a privilege and there was not an easy way out, or was there?

    It has come to the attention that the University of North Carolina essentially had “fake” classes where student athletes never met in class, and they only were given one assignment which could easily be copied and pasted off of the internet. Student athletes received As and Bs in their classes without putting in the work that the majority of students were required to do. There were over two hundred fake courses and over hundreds of grades were changed without any form of authorization. The university was providing full scholarships to athletes who did not need to attend class or study or do homework, and the only focus on the athletes were to play sports.

    This is unfair for a variety of reasons. The first is that, most students take fifteen credits per semester and have to take hours out of their days to study and complete homework for classes, while other students are being held to a higher standard and aren’t being forced to do the same. The next reason is that it is unfair to the athletes. While the students are known for their play on the field, they are ultimately attending a university for an education, and the college is not providing that to them. Not many student athletes actually make it to the professional leagues and without the education, many students will be at a great disadvantage finding careers in their future. The National Collegiate Athletic Association needs to take a look at this scandal immediately to protect the students and to make sure all students are being treated fairly.

  3. Gina Ficarra November 10, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

    This particular scandal aggravates me for two main reasons. The first being, where is the whistle-blowing system at UNC Chapel Hill? Mary Willingham, the tutor at UNC Chapel Hill who exposed these fake classes, should never have been known. Her data should have been submitted to a private source who should have launched a full investigation. Instead of taking jabs at the tutor who uncovered the academic fraud, why not point fingers to the “professors” of these courses? These individuals are the ones allowing for, even encouraging these situations simply to keep athletes in the game.

    Furthermore, the fact that the University as a whole is supporting the athletics department in that they are not investigating said claims of false classes, says to an outside member that they were aware of the situation, and are choosing to do nothing about it. How can this happen? As a college student myself, it baffles me how I gruel through hours of class a day, work part-time, participate in a club sport and on-campus professional groups, spend all hours of the night doing homework, and still somehow manage to keep my GPA up, and someone else at UNC Chapel Hill will get the same degree by coasting their way through school writing one paper for the entire semester in a class, simply because they can play a sport. It is beyond outrageous that these “students” are allowed “special admittance” just to play a sport. Demand the integrity that as a representation of the University, these athletes do not receive special treatment. These athletes still represent UNC and should behave as such. They should be required to take real classes just like the rest of the student body. These students and staff members have tarnished the UNC Chapel Hill name forever by participating in fake classes, and the administration is essentially allowing it, even supporting it by not putting an end to it.

  4. Gabrielle Liguori November 10, 2015 at 9:32 pm #

    This article was quite shocking to me. All my life I figured that some colleges must help push athletes through school work and give them special services due to the attention they drew to schools. I never thought though that a college would actually create fake classes that never met and only required a basic paper to be handed in. That seems so incredibly unfair to the rest of the students at the university. Then on top of the fact that UNC was allowing athletes to get credits that did not even really exist, they had so called “experts” who would give special review to athletes for admission. To me, that basically means that UNC had professionals come in and decide if these athletes could at least form basic sentences and had some knowledge of basic grammar. It is crazy to think that such a prestigious university would be doing something so wrong and deceitful. To me, earning my grades is a satisfying thing, as I am sure many would agree. These athletes however just had grades handed to them which probably made them feel better than everyone else. On the contrary, it really makes them just as wrong and deceitful as the university.

    Another horrible thing that happened with this situation was the fact that the girl, Mary Willingham, who essentially “blew the whistle”, had no protection and was basically discredited by the university. As the article stated, as soon as the information was leaked about the athletes and fake classes, they went after the little fish. She was completely on her own and people who were actually able to back her up were being silenced by the university as well. Not only did that happen, but the Dean said that all the research Mary had done was a travesty and completely discredited it. It’s shameful that a university that is so well known and loved would act this way. Hopefully the matter was resolved properly and in the future other schools do not behave this way.

  5. Linda L November 14, 2015 at 8:47 am #

    This article caught my eye because of the word “Whistle Blower.” We just learned that term in my Business Law Class. Whistle Blowing pretty much means an employee that may have been reprimanded in the past for example, tardiness, and has filed a complaint with Federal or State Agencies that her employer was not abiding by their code of conduct, the employee cannot be reprimanded for filing the complaint. The employee has protection rights with discrimination, retaliation or working in a hostile working place.
    This article portrays “Whistle Blowing” when the UNC leadership went after Willingham directly, questioned her credibility then wrongfully demoted her. Willingham deserves to be protected until this investigation is sought out accordingly. The accusations are serious and can ruin the future of those college scandal attendees. The college had one job, to see students receive the education they were promised or they promised to fulfill. Athlete or Non-athlete there are resources to aid those gaps students struggle with.
    Universities are supposed to provide aid and educate ethically and morally, period. Fake schedules, classes, and grades is just insanely shocking. Let’s just hope we can still trust in the education system to educate morally and professionally. We are instilling these values in these students’ futures. It is not OK to treat someone different or better due to a sportsmanship another may not have.

  6. Joseph Dilley November 14, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    The scandal at the University of North Carolina shed light on the extreme lengths in which prestigious universities will go to make sure their star athletes can play. Athletes at these universities receive star treatment from not only the students but apparently the faculty as well. North Carolina is well known not only for the academics but their sports program as well. UNC basketball is consistently ranked and as a matter of fact is currently ranked number 1 in the nation. UNC football is also on the rise and constantly churn out NFL caliber players. These individuals are taught that sports should be regarded higher than their academics which is disgusting. These individuals taking these pretend courses are being set-up to fail in the real world. Not all these athletes will take their talents to the professional leagues and are ill-equipped for the professional world.
    Recently the University of Louisville was in the news for offering prostitutes to incoming freshman. Again this displays a prestigious university acting shady in order to sway top recruits into committing to the University of Louisville. The reason why these universities condone their illegal activities is because money speaks. The athletics generate high revenues for these universities and the high officials prefer the bottom line over the well-being of their students.

  7. PFM November 15, 2015 at 4:53 pm #

    This scandal brings up a handful of questions. One major question is what other universities have done this, or are doing this right now as well? There are a lot of big Division I schools where the students and alumni live and breath their university’s college football or basketball team. For example, a school that lives and breathes football is the University of Alabama, and a school that lives and breathes basketball is Duke University. I believe we will start to see similar scandals unravel at other big name Division I schools in the near future.

    Also, UNC doing this to their student athletes does nothing but harm them and fail at preparing them for their future. By having students take a joke of a class shows them entitlement. They start to feel that just because they are an athlete and in the public eye they are entitled to things. Entitlement is not given to an individual, it is earned with hard work. The whole point of college is to grow and mature as a young adult. You find what does and doesn’t work for you while you are working towards your education. One of the biggest advantages student athletes have while looking for a job after graduating is their ability to manage their time. A student athlete learns this by managing their academic and athletic schedules. As a college athlete myself, I’ll be the first to tell you this is a difficult task. However, it is well worth the late nights and stress because you are able to take so much out of it in the end. Everyone takes an elective they think will be a little easier in order to boost their GPA. However, taking a class like the one in the UNC scandal where basically the only work you do is registering for the class, does more harm than good.

  8. Ryan Simmons November 15, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

    A friend of mine actually played basketball at North Carolina and just recently graduated. I learned a lot of things from watching him go through the recruiting process ni high school as well as what benefits came from being a student athlete at a premier division one basketball program. Something I learned was that a solid amount of schools actually offer academic benefits to their student athletes.

    One university he visited specifically told him that if the team was performing well then his grades would reflect that. I was pretty shocked when he told me that. They offered tutors to do a lot of his work and pretty much tried to talk him into majoring in something easy so that he wouldn’t risk becoming academically ineligible. He ended up following their advice and unfortunately he is stuggling to find a job after deciding to major in sociology and having an up and down career at UNC end with a knee injury.

  9. Mike Mondelli November 11, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

    Playing college football and basketball at the Division I level is an incredible opportunity for young athletes. College football and basketball are two staples of American culture. Unfortunately, this means that some universities value sports more than education. There are people who follow college sports more closely than professional sports. As a result, ticket sales are often one of the best sources of revenue for universities. Fans of college sports pay to see the best young athletes in the country and if players are suspended due to poor grades, there would be an outrage. It is very difficult for football and basketball players to juggle school work and crazy travel schedules, so it is understandable why a university may hold the hands of student-athletes in class. However, there must be some academic requirements for athletes to meet because at the end of the day, they are still students. Creating fake classes that nobody goes to is both unacceptable and unethical. Since higher education was created well before football and basketball were, university administrators need to remember that their institutions exist for education, not sports.

    The practice of doing school work for college athletes can also do more harm than good. It is another example of a business valuing profits over the well-being of its primary stakeholders. For example, if an athlete were to suffer a career ending injury, they would have no other skills to fall back on. While schools like Alabama and Duke create successful football and basketball careers, not every athlete will get a chance to play professionally. Graduating college with a worthless degree and no career in professional sports results in more people who are forced to work for minimum wage. Also, the UNC scandal will call into question the practices of other university athletics. It will not be surprising if other universities are revealed to be guilty of similar unethical conduct when dealing with student-athletes. One recent example involved assistant basketball coaches at Louisville hiring prostitutes to entertain recruits with sex and strip shows.

    One thing that surprised me when reading this article is that the only assignment UNC athletes were required to submit was a single plagiarized paper. Most universities have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to plagiarism and the fact that UNC turned a blind eye to student-athletes plagiarizing their papers is absurd. If any other student not involved in athletics plagiarized their final paper, they would fail the class and possibly be expelled from the university. This gives some student-athletes a sense of entitlement and the mentality that they can get away with anything. It is common to read about college football and basketball players being arrested for offenses such as DUI or assault and only getting a slap on the wrist. Reading about so-called student-athletes not being students was surprising. Hopefully, the UNC scandal will serve as a wake-up call for other universities that condone this type of fraudulent behavior.

  10. Daniel Alvarez April 21, 2017 at 5:22 pm #

    Competing in a Division I is a major time commitment. It is also a great opportunity for the athletes to compete at such a high level and receive a college degree perhaps more important than playing any sport. College sports are highly competitive and it attracts many viewers and fans. NCAA sports also generate millions of dollars in revenue for some bigger universities with prestige sports organizations. All the teams, fans, and even coaches want to recruit the best basketball players so that they can have the best team and compete for a national champion. It is important to understand that these basketball players are students first; they are STUDENT athletes. For all universities, there are academic requirements the student athlete must maintain in order to stay on the team. Unfortunately, some universities such as UNC advocate cheating and or bending the rule book so that their basketball players can be focused on only basketball because that will put their basketball program in the best spot to win.

    It seems that too often, big corporations and businesses are able to get away with things because they have money. In 2015, the NCAA generated $989 million in revenue. In almost a billion dollar industry it is not surprising to see some people try to cheat and scam their way to the top. Similar to the likes of Disney and Hollywood who have been through their fair share of copyright lawsuits from stealing others’ original ideas and profiting off of it just because they are a big corporation and there is not much an individual can do. There is always something going on in big corporations and businesses. Recently, it was found that the University of Louisville was provided prostitutes for entertainment purposes in an attempt to have an illegal edge over its competitors. The NCAA needs more regulations on its operations as I do not agree with a lot of their policies but that’s for a different comment.

    Specifically, in UNC the black-studies department provided fake classes. The department pretended to offer lecture courses, but the classes never met. Students received A and B grades for submitting a single paper, which they often cobbled together from material copied from the Internet. The total number of course found to be similar to this was 200. This is a staggering and worrisome finding. The school is robbing the student athletes of a valuable education. The NCAA needs to ensure this does not happen anymore.

    Also, it’s worth mentioning that in the midst of this recent scandal committed by UNC, the basketball program was able to put all of that to the side and win an NCAA national championship. They have always been one of the top basketball schools. Though it would be tough for the scandal to still be occurring with all the coverage that it got but if that went on for so long who is to say that they did not have another illegal advantage or cut some corner this time around as well?

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