Academic programs getting review following years in scandal
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina is reviewing its academic support programs for athletes after three years of scandal and changes in university leadership.
Provost James W. Dean Jr., who recently became UNC's chief academic officer, said a group of faculty and athletics officials is looking at everything from the admissions process for recruits to how the school provides academic counseling once athletes are here. UNC would then implement changes in a review expected to take most of the current academic year.
"There's no organization in the world that will execute it all perfectly, and we clearly haven't," Dean said. "But I want to get beyond that. ... We really need to figure this out. If we're going to try to excel at both (academics and athletics), we need to think hard about how to do it right."
Since 2010, the school has dealt with the aftermath of an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct within the football program. Academic violations initially centered on a tutor providing too much help on research papers, though it later led to the discovery of fraud in an academic department including no-show classes with significant athlete enrollments and unauthorized grade changes.
That also raised questions about the role of academic counselors who enrolled athletes in suspect classes, though an investigation led by former Gov. Jim Martin found no evidence the athletics department pushed athletes into the courses to keep them eligible for competition.
The problems led to the departures of several university officials, including longtime athletic director Dick Baddour and chancellor Holden Thorp — who said he was eager to leave behind major college athletics to become provost at Division III Washington University in St. Louis.
The school hired Tulsa's Bubba Cunningham as athletic director in 2011, then hired Dartmouth interim president Carol Folt as chancellor in April. Dean and Cunningham are leading the review group.
"Our coaches are recruiting students from the class of '14, '15 and '16," Cunningham said. "We have to keep 800 student-athletes eligible for the next multiple semesters. We have to register students for classes in October for the January session. So we're trying to change the wheels on a bus while the bus is rolling."
Dean said he's looking for a comprehensive way to improve academic support efforts instead of waiting for problems to occur.
"I imagined Carol Folt being at an alumni reunion ... and somebody raises their hand and asks, 'So are all these athletic problems behind us? Have we fixed them?'" Dean said. "I want her to be able to say, 'Yes.'"