In the wake of the massive academic fraud scandal involving athletics, the University of North Carolina’s main campus at Chapel Hill has been put on probation for one year by its accreditor. While this punishment sounds pretty light, there probably isn’t much else that the accreditor can do short of outright revoking accreditation. Regardless, this is hugely embarrassing for a major university like UNC and seems entirely deserved. Still no word yet on what the NCAA is going to do. Some people in the comments are also pointing out that there could be further consequences if the Department of Education finds that federal funds were misused.
The University of North Carolina has finally released its report on its long-standing investigation into fraudulent classes offered through the African-American Studies department, and it’s pretty damning. The school offered fake classes to thousands of students – nearly half of them athletes – and gave them A’s and B’s for almost no work or in some cases, literally no work. It was orchestrated largely by an administrative assistant who also changed bad grades without the knowledge of professors. Additionally, the department chair knew so it wasn’t just a rogue admin. This was all done with the full knowledge and complicity of the athletics department, which pushed students, particularly in football and basketball, into these classes. The athletics department was even concerned that these classes would disappear when the administrator retired and pressured the department to keep going.
It also turns out that the classes involved were both fake independent studies and fake lectures. Some non-athletes who signed up for classes were actually interested and were thus denied the opportunity to learn about those subjects. However, as such a huge number of students were involved, many students already knew that the classes were fraudulent and took them just for the free boost to their GPA. Fraternities were particularly involved. The report also makes it clear that much of the department’s faculty were totally unaware of what was going on and, to the extent that they were aware, were furious. That a formerly-segregated public university in the south would end up with these fake classes in the African American studies department is particularly appalling. This casts doubt on the legitimacy of everyone in the department even though it is also clear that there are plenty of real classes available as well – while the athletes were nearly half of the students in the fake classes, they were less than 10% of students in normal classes in that department.
Deadspin has a copy of the report if you want to read the whole thing.
While UNC will obviously need to continue to take action to correct these problems, the massive scale of this fraud also calls for intervention by outside parties. The accrediting body, SACS, needs to do a serious investigation, as thousands of students potentially received degrees that they did not earn. The federal and state governments should investigate any fraudulent use of government funds to pay for all of this. Finally, because the cooperation of the athletics department was an instrumental part in this whole saga, the NCAA needs to get involved. If anything called for the implementation of the NCAA’s “death penalty” it would be this kind of behavior (well, either this or covering up crimes to protect a team’s reputation). I would suggest that the entire athletics department be banned from NCAA competition for at least a year, all records from the affected teams for the 18 years in which these classes were offered be erased, and all wins forfeited.
In other sports news, some college sports scandals are back in the news.
The NCAA announced that Penn State’s punishments for the Sandusky scandal are being ended early. Penn State will be allowed to participate in the postseason again and its full complement of scholarships will be restored. Needless to say, this decision has angered nearly everyone not affiliated with Penn State. To me, this seems like just the latest example of the NCAA going easy on one of its flagship programs. It’s being reported that thousands of students gathered to celebrate and called for the NCAA to overturn even symbolic punishments like wiping wins off the record books, showing that many people have learned nothing from the scandal. While current athletes and students had nothing to do with the scandal, the Sandusky case should be a textbook case of lack of institutional control. University officials and even major state political figures acted to protect the program for years, leading to a much bigger problem than there would have been had everything been properly reported and investigated when was first discovered. I actually would have liked to see the NCAA implement the “death penalty” against Penn State, but they’ve been afraid to do that to anyone for decades.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a new story on the ongoing mess at UNC Chapel Hill involving fake classes, possibly illiterate athletes, and a cover-up by university officials blaming the academic part of the school for what is clearly an athletics problem. Unfortunately, the story is behind the CHE’s paywall so you’ll have to get to a library or campus network with a subscription to access it.
CNN is reporting that a former long-time MIT professor and associate dean of the Sloan School of Management, Gabriel Bitran, has pled guilty to scamming investors with a basically fake hedge fund. Bernie Madoff is even involved.
It seems like this kind of malfeasance occurs not infrequently among professors in prominent business schools. Professors stealing tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, particularly if they use their position as a professor to gain peoples’ trust, certainly looks bad for MIT. The fact that these are business professors, who should obviously know better, doesn’t exactly help improve the already dim reputation of business as an academic field.