I have never attended a class at the University of North Carolina, let alone an African and Afro-American studies course. I write as an outsider. With that disclaimer stated, this is bigger than sports. The scandal at UNC is bigger than vacated wins, banners, or asterisks. This has become about integrity.
With the recent revelations involving the illegal posting of Julius Peppers’ (alleged) transcript, it’s clear much of what has occurred in and around the African and Afro-American studies program has been a lie. The administration attempted to push the idea of a rogue professor and assistant. Many Tar Heel fans, myself included, nodded, while others howled in protest. They were right. The unfortunate state of the program stretched well before Butch Davis arrived on campus, a convenient line of delineation the University administration attempted to use. Again, this is bigger than sports.
The idea that the African and Afro-American Studies program was used to somehow keep athletes eligible is the more palatable of the options, because the other reason the African and Afro-American studies program fell into this dilapidated state would be indifference. It’s unfathomable that such administrative apathy would be tolerated in the Kenan-Flagler Business School, the school of journalism, law or any other program of study the school touts.
Led by Chancellor Holden Thorp, the administration of the school has sought to keep the focus on the athletic department, but many of the names left in the wake now appear as scapegoats for a far more serious cover-up. UNC has besmirched the very idea of African and Afro-American studies and any student-athlete who was to seek a legitimate education in this field, will now be eyed with skepticism. Graduates and legitimate educators of African and Afro-American studies of any school will find themselves under more scrutiny, all because of the arrogance or indifference of UNC’s administration. The university’s insistence on pushing blame to individuals must now fall on to “rogue” individuals who allowed a legitimate field of study to become a cesspool. As Chancellor Thorp has stated he accepts full responsibility for the academic failings, this begins with him.
The University has failed itself, students, parents and the entire state. There can be no more brushing aside of allegations. There can be no more excuses, and there should be no more African and Afro-American Studies program. The people currently in charge are not qualified to supervise such a program, and for the sake of the tattered integrity of the school they must no longer pretend to be competent enough to offer those courses.
Once new leadership is in place, the African and Afro-American studies program should be rebuilt from the ground up. Just as Penn State will be taking a leadership role in prevention of child abuse, UNC should do everything in its power to develop the best African and Afro-American studies program possible. It should stand alongside the Kenan-Flagler School of Business as one of the flagship programs of the university and should set the bar for all other African and Afro-American studies programs around the country.
While what has transpired over the last decade (at least) within the African and Afro-American Studies department has been reprehensible, it’s possible we’re getting a glimpse of the dirty little secret of academia. Regardless, this is now bigger than sports. If it costs wins, banners, or scholarships the University must do everything within its power to ensure that all of its students get the education they deserve. The name across the chest doesn’t just represent graduates, it represents our state and every one of us deserves better. I’ve never once been ashamed of where I’m from. Today, I feel a slight twinge.
Colin can be reached on The Mac Attack from 6A-10A Monday-Friday or on twitter @ColinWFNZ