Lux, libertas. Translation: light and liberty. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill boasts this principle as its mission statement. However, in light of Kenneth Wainstein’s (former federal prosecutor) recent release of investigation reports of = academic fraud, that mission statement’s brilliance seems to have been dulled. For a university that prides itself on its academic vigor and social responsibility, academic fraud should have no place in an institution often referred to as one of the top five public “Ivies.” Does this fraud say more about the institution or the community? The answer is not a simple one.
As a student at the university, it is easy to get caught up in the swell of school pride, especially when it comes to athletics. The fervent desire for the athletic teams to remain on top seems to be a requirement after accepting admission. But is athletic dominance worth a tarnished reputation? In Wainstein’s report, over the course of eighteen years, 3,100 UNC undergraduate students took “paper classes” offered through the Department of African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM). Paper classes were classes strongly directed at athletes—by the recommendation of academic guidance counselors—in order for athletes to make good grades to remain eligible by NCAA standards. These classes did not prove academic merit but only the professors Julius Nyang’oro and Deborah Crowder’s desires to keep their athlete students eligible and in season. These two professors created and offered over a hundred of these “irregular classes” and student athletes comprised 47.6 percent of the enrollment in these courses.
In an email to the student body on the day of the press release, Chancellor Carol Folt expressed her upset over the findings saying, “I recognize that the past few years have been challenging for our community, but today we have a full picture of what happened. I am deeply disappointed by the duration and the extent of the wrongdoing, as well as the lack of oversight that could have corrected it sooner.” Should her condolences be enough? The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a selective institution and admission to the university is not a simple feat. The surfacing of this scandal leaves an ambivalent feeling among hardworking students that is difficult to ignore. Each student at the university works endless hours to achieve high GPAs and to create a healthy, competitive environment. The fact that this academic fraud went unacknowledged for eighteen years undermines the hard work past students were putting forth for the university. No student, whether a Division One athlete or an honors student, should have been given an unfair advantage such as the advantages afforded through the aforementioned paper classes. The university’s faculty deserves to be commended for the efforts it is putting forth to rectify the past grievance, but it is a moment in Carolina history that will not be soon forgotten.
According to a report by Ben Estes for Sports Illustrated, the culture at Carolina surrounding athletics fostered this behavior from AFAM. It is unfortunate to admit that the emphasis on athletic success is a focal point for the culture at the university. Perhaps with the reveal of the scandal a new chapter for Carolina will begin, one free of unfair advantage and one that returns to the roots of the institution itself. Excellence in academics should be at the core of every student’s career at UNC, not figuring out ways to bypass the system. Chancellor Folt is at the masthead for correcting this issue; she was quoted during the press release saying, “I apologize first to the students who entrusted us with their education and took these courses. You deserved so much better from your University, and we will do everything we can to make it right. I also want to apologize to the Carolina community – you have been hurt both directly and indirectly by this wrongdoing, even though you had no knowledge or responsibility for it, and many of you were not even here when most or all of it occurred.” Although the scandal affected students of the past more heavily than it does current students, it is a matter of great somberness that each member of the Carolina community must bear from here on out. The students of this prestigious institution must continue to rectify the mistakes of the past alumni fell into by pursuing not only excellence, but also honesty.