Blue Heaven: One Man’s View

It’s time to Break It Down!

This post in no way purports to be the last word on what for me is a sad and unfortunate situation. Neither is it intended to be the first word, nor an insider’s word. Consider it a personal word, a palliative act, a therapeutic reaction, a cathartic exhaling in response to the constant coverage of my alma mater’s widely publicized transgressions.

I begin by stipulating the obvious. From beginning to end, and we are told that spanned 18 years, many individuals skirted, or down right flouted the rules of convention!

There are those, especially in the media, and card-carrying members of the ABC (Anybody But Carolina) Club, who insist the UNC scandal is “the worst ever”…in the history of the world. Of course I don’t believe that. But I readily concede, I am not only an avid Tar Heel fan; I am a proud alumnus, and Life Member of the University’s General Alumni Association. I have been visiting the campus since the early 1960’s when my mother was treated for cancer at UNC Hospitals. A decade and a half later I earned a Graduate Degree from the Department of City & Regional Planning. I’ve been a die-hard Tar Heel Basketball fan since 1967, when Charlie Scott enrolled, and quickly became the first African American to become a star basketball player in the ACC. As the promo goes at UNC sporting events, I’m Leon Miller, and “I’m a Tart Heel!”

Despite a litany of bases for bias, I am neither blind, nor dense, when it comes to UNC. First and foremost, the purpose and mission of any university, and especially the flagship institution of the State of North Carolina, regularly earning recognition as a Public Ivy, is to provide an exceptional educational experience to those students who enroll and matriculate. Clearly, over a period of 18 years, for more than 3,000 students, the University failed to achieve its mission. It is impossible to stipulate the former without conceding the latter. That is unfortunate. I am disappointed, angry, and embarrassed. I am not, however, abandoning the ship. I’m still a Tar Heel!

There is one reason, and one reason alone that the activities at UNC can be labeled the “the worst ever.” The underpinning for that view is simple. UNC has made more, greater, and more forthcoming efforts to investigate its transgressions, and to subsequently inform, not only a faculty or high-level academic council, but also, the university community at-large, and indeed the world. That in no way reduces the sting, the stench, or the stigma, but it does provide a clear window into the pathway the university is taking to remediate both its internal business processes, as well as its reputation. Carolina remains a font of knowledge, and a Citadel of Learning.

The University of North Carolina has not only conducted numerous reviews, both internal and external, it has terminated, prosecuted, and or forced retirement of the principals tied directly to fostering and executing the nefarious scheme that led to the scandal. In addition, UNC has initiated a vast array of new and revised policies and procedures designed to ensure that administrators never again repeat such academic indiscretions.

The University has launched several initiatives to strengthen the academic experience for its nearly 800 students who are athletes. Those include “Carolina Leads,” a strategic plan that is a roadmap for all aspects of Carolina athletics, including academics as well as the department’s alignment with the University, competition, finances, community service, and the hiring and training of coaches, administrators and support staff.

Those initiatives also include the creation of the Student-Athlete Academic Initiative Working Group led by Provost James W. Dean Jr. and Cunningham; the hiring of Michelle Brown to direct the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes; and an increased role for the Faculty Athletics Committee.

The Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes now reports directly to the provost, the University’s chief academic officer.

Even among Tar Heel faithful, the debate rages about whether the scandal was academic or athletic. While it’s clear an academic dreamed up and executed this horrible scam, I tend to agree with Chancellor Folt, who in the aftermath of the now infamous Wainstein Report, declared, “Wainstein’s findings definitely show that the fraud was both an academic and athletic problem.” She went on to say, “The bad actions of a very few and inaction of many more failed our students, faculty and staff and undermined our institution.” She termed it an “inexcusable betrayal of our values.”

There is yet another shoe to drop. The NCAA still must weigh in on this matter. I have no crystal ball, so I will not even hazard a guess as to the scope of their prospective actions. I know many folks, who do not cheer for the Tar Heels hope one or more Basketball Titles will disappear. I have heard others posit that scholarships should be withdrawn. Any or all of that could happen; anything is possible. Those who follow the NCAA know the Body is capable of the unpredictable.

My alma mater is culpable in this matter. I neither seek, nor expect sympathy for their case. What I would hope for is a more balanced presentation of the facts. Broadly speaking, the media too often does what it does. That is, tell a sensationalized version of the story, that while mostly true, omits or deletes key details necessary for the presentation to be fair and balanced. For example, I saw an article this week in a national publication that asserted that 3,100 athletes took the paper classes of a period of nearly 20 years. The Wainstein Report was released a month ago. That is lazy journalism. Yes, 18 years is nearly 20, but not only is it more economical to say “18 years,” it’s also accurate. Speaking of accurate, it is flat inaccurate to claim 3,100 athletes were in the classes. It is true that 3,100 students took the classes, but…less than half those were athletes. That is a huge piece of statistical misinformation.

I get it; the story is not going away. OK, fine, tell the story, just get the facts straight. That’s all I’m asking. And that, my friends, is my story, and I’m sticking to it. “Blue Heaven: One Man’s View!”

I’m done; holla back!

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