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Friday, December 21, 2012

Scrooge and Santa (On the Martin Report)

Posted by on Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 8:17 AM

Well, we would have liked this last pre-Christmas blog posting to focus solely on the question of last-minute gifts for the ACC fan in your life. Unfortunately, the Martin Report came out yesterday, and, having actually read it, we are obliged to say something about it.

If the idea of the Martin Report—at least this version of it—was to close the book on the UNC academic scandal, clearly it has failed. Internal campus critics such as history professor Jay Smith as well as the News & Observer editorialists have been quick to point out that the report simply doesn't investigate in any detail the question of whether athletes benefitted primarily or disproportionately from the suspect courses in the African and Afro-American Studies departments. Because this iteration of the report (a folllow-up is promised for next month) didn't dig into all the hard questions, it's hard to see why we should accept former Gov. Martin's conclusion that this is simply an academic scandal.

To be sure, cooperation from the key individuals involved is probably necessary to understand why these academic irregularities took place. There well could be plausible non-athletic reasons underlying the irregular practices. But with the data at Martin's disposal, he should be able to answer with precision a) how many athletes took irregularly organized classes b) how many grade changes (especially "permanent grade changes," in which one final grade is assigned but is later changed) were for athletes c) whether those grade changes benefited athletes and potentially impacted specific athletes' eligibility for competition. At this point in proceedings, the public has a right to know the answers to those questions.

The report does indicate part of the answer to c). First, it states that the percentage of grade changes for student-athletes corresponded to the proportion of student-athletes taking courses in the department. How many might that be? The report found a total of 28 unauthorized permanent grade changes and 78 "suspect unauthorized" permanent grade changes, 80 of which (combining "unauthorized" and "suspect unauthorized" categories) took place in three school years (2003-04, 2005-06, and 2006-07). So that's a maximum of 106 students, some number of which—perhaps 15 to 25?—were athletes. Oddly, the number of unauthorized or suspect unauthorized changes fell off from 30 in 2003-04 to just 3 in 2004-05 before rising again in 2005-06, then dropping off again sharply after 2006-07. In addition to grade changes in regular courses, there are 53 unaccounted grade changes in independent studies offered by the department, 37 of which were in the 2000-2003 period. There may be a rational explanation for those patterns, but the public has a right to know the extent to which student-athletes benefited from those grade changes.

But this is not the only line of critical questioning about the report. Martin and his investigators found that the problems of unauthorized grade changes and suspect course sections that no one can remember teaching started in the late 90s, largely ended after 2009, were limited to the African and Afro-American Studies departments, and that only the department faculty chair and the department administrator knew of the suspect practices. Martin's report tries to establish that responsibility for the problems is limited to two persons no longer at UNC.

Insofar as Martin aimed to vindicate the reputation of other faculty members in African and Afro-American Studies whose reputation has been unfairly varnished by association with events they had no role in, this emphasis is understandable and even laudable. But Martin should have raised tough questions for the higher-ranking academic officials charged with overseeing the Department (i.e. Dean of Arts and Sciences and Provost, as well as the Registrar). Why was one person allowed to remain as Department chair for such a long period? Why didn't the administrative capacity of the Department evolve as it grew? Why didn't anyone notice a pattern of disproportionately high grade change requests coming out of the Department and ask tough questions about it? Why didn't anyone question how Julius Nyang'oro, well known for his ambitious international consulting schedule, could also be teaching as many as 24 courses in a single year?

Questions like that strike higher up the chain of authority in Chapel Hill, but they need to be asked.


And now, Santa Claus time. Here's your last-minute gift guide for naughty and nice ACC fans in the Triangle.

FOR N.C. STATE FANS

Naughty: A DVD of the NCSU-Virginia football game in Carter-Finley, personally signed by Tom O'Brien
Nice: Bound copy of the NCAA's report on violations in the UNC football program issued March 2012

FOR DUKE FANS

Naughty: DVD of 2012 Senior Night game against Carolina
Very Naughty: Lehigh basketball t-shirt
Nice: Tickets to a once-in-a-generation event, Duke's appearance in the Belk Bowl v. Cincinnati
Very Nice: DVD of Jabari Parker praising coach K in announcing his commitment to the Blue Devils

FOR CAROLINA FANS

Naughty: DVD of Carolina's basketball game at FSU in January, interspersed with clips from games this season against Butler, Indiana, and Texas
Very Naughty: DVD of Austin Rivers's shot in Chapel Hill (as well as entire last two minutes of that game)
Nice: DVD of Gio Bernard's punt return vs. N.C. State
Very Nice: Soccer ball signed by the 2012 national championship women's soccer team. After all, despite the attention to given to some of the other sports at Carolina, at the end of the day it's a women's soccer school.

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We would have liked this last pre-Christmas post to focus solely on last-minute gifts for the ACC fan in your life. Unfortunately, the Martin Report came out yesterday, and, having actually read it, we are obliged to say something about it.

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