Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports

Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports

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Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports

In 2010 allegations of an utterly corrupt academic system for student-athletes emerged from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus, home of the legendary Tar Heels. As the alma mater of Michael Jordan, Larry Brown, Marion Jones, Lawrence Taylor, Rashad McCants, and many others; winner of forty national championships in six different sports; and a partner in one of the best rivalries in sports, UNC–Chapel Hill is a world-famous colossus of college athletics. In the wake of the Wainstein report, however, the fallout from this scandal—and the continuing spotlight on the failings of college athletics—has made the school ground zero in the debate about how the $16 billion college sports industry operates.

Written by UNC professor of history Jay Smith and UNC athletics department whistleblower Mary Willingham, Cheated exposes the fraudulent inner workings of this famous university. For decades these internal systems have allowed woefully underprepared basketball and football players to take fake courses and earn devalued degrees from one of the nation’s top universities while faculty and administrators looked the other way. In unbiased and carefully sourced detail, Cheated recounts the academic fraud in UNC’s athletics department, even as university leaders focused on minimizing the damage in order to keep the billion-dollar college sports revenue machine functioning. Smith and Willingham make an impassioned argument that the “student-athletes” in these programs are being cheated out of what, after all, is promised them in the first place: a college education. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612347288
Publisher: Potomac Books
Publication date: 03/15/2015
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 369,897
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Jay M. Smith is a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has served in a variety of administrative capacities involving the management of undergraduate education.

Mary Willingham worked in the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling at UNC–Chapel Hill until 2014. Both she (in 2013) and Smith (in 2014) received the Robert Maynard Hutchins Award from the Drake Group for integrity in the face of college sport corruption, making UNC the only institution with two Hutchins award winners. Willingham is the founder of Paper Class, Inc. (, an organization dedicated to fighting on behalf of student-athletes for a fair and proper education.

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The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports

By Jay M. Smith, Mary Willingham


Copyright © 2015 Jay M. Smith and Mary Willingham
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61234-728-8


Paper-Class Central

The University of North Carolina is rightly proud of the academic achievements of its many "student-athletes" (a term studiously avoided in this book, for reasons that will become clear). The university fields dozens of athletic teams with hundreds of athletes, and most of them are capable and ambitious students who perform well in the classroom. Every year football and basketball players, along with athletes from the so-called Olympic sports, number among the success stories. Despite this record of success, however, UNC–Chapel Hill has been tarred by an academic-athletic fraud scandal the purpose of which was to enable athletes to cheat the system. The main argument of this book is that the athletes themselves were cheated in the process.

The underlying cause for the decades-long academic fraud at UNC is, we believe, straightforward. The university knowingly and eagerly admitted athletes with poor academic training or little to no interest in school and further served the needs of the athletic program by creating paths to academic eligibility that kept those athletes on the field year after year. Those eligibility paths led first to subtle compromises with academic principle and then finally to outright corruption.

This basic dynamic has been repeated on college campuses across the land for many years, and the nexus between the academic preparedness and commitment of athletes and the curricular fakery that developed at UNC—a particularly revealing example of a national problem—will be examined in greater detail in chapters 7 and 8. But the story of UNC's specific form of academic malpractice really begins at the intersection of several historical currents, some of them specific to the environment in Chapel Hill and some of them reflecting changes in the landscape of collegiate sport during the 1980s and early 1990s. Opportunity, mutual need, convenience, personality, NCAA pressures, and sheer chance converged to push UNC toward systematic hypocrisy by 1993. Chapters 1 and 2 will explain the genesis of the now notorious paper-class system of athletic eligibility and show for the first time exactly how it worked when it was at its peak between the late 1990s and the middle 2000s.

Tangled Origins

Race lies at the center of the UNC story, and few stories offer a more vivid illustration of America's conflicted relationship with race than the one involving sport and the black athlete at Carolina. The story of UNC's scandal opens not on a gridiron or a hardwood floor, however, but in the offices and conference rooms of UNC's College of Arts and Sciences, where the emerging discipline of African and Afro-American studies (AFRI/AFAM) struggled for respect, standing, and resources in the 1980s. Like many universities around the country, UNC had established a curriculum in African and Afro-American studies amid the tumult of the civil rights era. Designed to redress regrettable intellectual imbalances in the standard curriculum, to help attract more African American students to Chapel Hill, and to create a more welcoming and affirming environment for all students, the curriculum had been created in 1969. Although it attracted few majors, its courses proved popular. During one extraordinary period of growth, while it enjoyed the vigorous leadership of historian Colin Palmer, the curriculum's enrollment figures grew by an astonishing 850 percent in just seven years (from 251 students in 1979–80 to nearly 2,200 students in 1986–87).1 The curriculum's teaching staff remained small, and it relied heavily on faculty rooted in other departments such as History, Political Science, and Anthropology, but AFRI/AFAM clearly enriched the undergraduate curriculum and was much appreciated by students. As Dean Gillian Cell would note in a letter to Chancellor Paul Hardin in 1989, UNC's AFRI/AFAM curriculum had surged to become "the largest such program in terms of enrollment in the country."

By the late 1980s, however, the faculty who called the curriculum their home had grown frustrated by what some perceived as lackluster support from the university administration. When Colin Palmer accepted an appointment as chair of the History Department in 1986, the AFRI/AFAM curriculum endured several unsettled years without a new leader. For three years running, search committees struck out in their hunt for a prominent national figure to take Palmer's place. (Palmer stayed on as a part-time chair for two years, and then a succession of acting chairs filled in for two more years.) Professor Sonja Haynes Stone called on Dean Cell to "end this state of limbo" by making an expeditious appointment in the spring of 1989, but time constraints and bitter disagreements over the quality of the leading candidate led to yet another failed search that year—despite what seems to have been a good-faith effort by Cell. The installation in 1990 of a highly regarded specialist of African American literature, Trudier Harris of UNC's own English Department, brought sighs of relief and renewed hope for the future. But the good feelings would not last. Harris found no joy in administration. Before two years had passed, she decided to go back to the English Department to resume her former life as a distinguished professor.

Nor was the leadership vacuum the only problem. Despite the amazing enrollment growth since 1980, the college had done little to put additional faculty resources into the curriculum. Stone chided Dean Cell for the "snail-like pace" at which the university had invested in the AFRI/AFAM program. Only one permanent faculty member—political scientist Catherine Newbury—had been added since the early 1980s. (Stone would later refer to Cell's failure to attract more black faculty to UNC as "an abomination.") Inadequate staffing stood out as a perennial problem, and chairs pushed the college insistently. "As usual," Palmer complained in 1987, "the curriculum is understaffed. It relies entirely too much on fixed term faculty to meet the necessary instructional needs." Two years later the needs had become only more urgent. The curriculum's introductory courses were "always oversubscribed," according to its annual newsletter in 1989. Acting chair Sherman James called for "2–3 new tenure track appointments" as well as a new chair with the requisite national standing to provide "balanced and creative leadership" for an emerging discipline. Among the projects this new chair should tackle: the establishment of a research center for comparative African and Afro-American studies. It was hoped that such an institution, for which Palmer and others had already laid the foundations, would serve as an intellectual center of gravity that would boost the visibility of the curriculum and help to attract the brightest minds to Chapel Hill. The college supported the idea in principle, but progress had been slow.

In their annual report for the curriculum in 1990, the acting co-chairs, Thadious Davis and Robert Gallman, pointed to the discrepancy between the curriculum's always impressive enrollment numbers and its modest national reputation. The national standing of the AFRI/AFAM curriculum still lagged behind those of the University of California (UC) at Berkeley, Cornell, Indiana, Ohio State, Yale, and Penn. They noted, "An academic program the vast majority of whose students are taught by graduate students and temporary faculty" would never be ranked among the best in the nation. "Our program lacks prestige and strength" because the university had failed to make AFRI/AFAM an institutional priority.

The struggles endured by the curriculum found parallels in the student experience on campus. Ever since 1968, when UNC's Black Student Movement had formed out of the protests of the civil rights era, some had called for the construction of a campus building dedicated to the study and celebration of black culture. Leaders of the BSM began championing a "freestanding" center in the late 1980s, about the same time that the curriculum in AFRI/AFAM began to press its case more urgently with college deans. When Professor Stone died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm in August 1991, the tragedy kicked off a turbulent period in campus political life. Stone had believed, as she wrote in a 1989 letter to Dean Cell, that "the entire university must bear the onus of advancing African and Afro-American studies" and "increasing and enhancing the African-American presence at Chapel Hill." Stone had been revered by many students, including key figures in the BSM, and her well-known commitment to these two imperatives—boosting the fortunes of the curriculum and enhancing the experiences of all black students, faculty, and staff at the university—served as a rallying point for student activists over the next several years. After months of controversy and debate, in September 1992 student protesters led a series of marches in which they demanded that the university commit to a freestanding center. In a sign of the depth and breadth of student feeling over the issue, UNC athletes joined in these marches and offered vocal support for the cause.

Chancellor Hardin resisted these efforts at first, even after one dramatic late-night rally in front of his home. He feared that creation of a separate building would waken echoes of segregation and that the center might become a "fortress" rather than a forum for open discussion. But tensions escalated. "We gave him an ultimatum," football player Tim Smith would later recall. "If you want us to be quiet," they told the chancellor during one heated confrontation, "give us a BCC [Black Cultural Center] by November 13." Later in the fall semester, after a committee that he had appointed endorsed the idea of a freestanding center, Hardin finally relented. By 1993 campus opinion had swung strongly in favor of a separate building for the Black Cultural Center, and fund-raising efforts had begun. In 2001, after nine million dollars had been raised from private donors, the university at last broke ground on the Sonja Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center.

These events are relevant to the story of the UNC scandal because the frustrations of the late 1980s and early 1990s help to explain both the rise to prominence of scandal linchpin Julius Nyang'oro (as well as the wide latitude he was given by college administrators after 1992) and the attitudes of his longtime assistant, Debby Crowder, who had been the one indispensable staff person in the AFRI/AFAM curriculum since her hiring in 1979. After the decision of Trudier Harris to relinquish the position of chair of the curriculum, UNC leaders faced a quandary. The senior distinguished people to whom the college might have turned in previous years—Harris, Palmer, James—had either left the university or definitively left the curriculum's leadership role. A national search for the chair position seemed out of the question, given the protracted pain earlier such searches had caused. Uncertainty and added turmoil in the curriculum were precisely what the college wanted to avoid in 1992, but the viable candidates to succeed Harris were few. The eyes of the dean fell inevitably on Julius Nyang'oro.

Nyang'oro had recently experienced a meteoric rise through the ranks in AFRI/AFAM. He had first come to the curriculum in 1984 as a postdoctoral fellow. He stayed on as a "visiting" faculty member through 1990, teaching a variety of courses on the political and economic development of Africa, focusing particularly on his native region of East Africa. After word got around that he had received an offer for a tenure-track position at another institution in 1990, the college felt pressure from others within the curriculum to make an effort to keep Nyang'oro. In 1989 acting chair Sherman James had reminded the dean that "the recruitment and retention of outstanding black academics" remained a pressing challenge in Chapel Hill. Now UNC faced the troubling prospect of losing the services of the young and promising Nyang'oro. In an unusual move the college therefore approved the curriculum's offer of a tenure-track position to Nyang'oro, even though no real search had been conducted and no alternative candidates were seriously considered for the job.

Nyang'oro received generous treatment over the next several years. In part this reflected his obvious merits: he won a teaching award in his first year on the permanent faculty, and he had already established himself as a publishing scholar with an active research agenda. But structural conditions and sheer chance also worked in favor of his rapid advance. He was granted tenure early, after only one year as an assistant professor, and when Trudier Harris left the curriculum in 1992, her absence created a vacuum that Nyang'oro was poised to fill. In the wake of Stone's death and Harris's departure, Nyang'oro stood as the lone remaining black faculty member based in the AFRI/AFAM curriculum. The other members of the faculty were all capable people, but none had yet earned sufficient scholarly distinction to overcome the symbolic affront that white leadership of AFRI/AFAM would have represented at this sensitive point in the curriculum's history. One student activist had reminded Dean Cell, in a 1989 editorial in the student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, that she had confirmed "our worst fears" when she appointed a white male—the economist Gallman—as interim chair that year. After the loss of Stone, others in the BSM had immediately begun to push university administrators to show greater respect for the field by making the curriculum into a department. Julius Nyang'oro thus quickly emerged as the obvious—perhaps the only—choice to succeed Harris, even though he was of relatively junior status and had been a member of the permanent faculty for only two years. By the summer of 1993, in less than three years' time, Nyang'oro had gone from the insecurity of "visiting" faculty status to become the tenured chair of one of the most visible and politically sensitive academic units in the college.

Nyang'oro put his leverage to good use. The college authorized two new faculty searches for the 1992–93 academic year, and Nyang'oro gained permission for four more such searches the following year. By the summer of 1995, with nine permanent faculty now on the staff after he had spent only two years at the helm, Nyang'oro could rightfully say that he had presided over the tripling of the size of the curriculum since the sad low-water mark of 1991. He had also shepherded through the college approval process a new modern language program, Kiswahili, that went into effect in 1995. And in that same year Nyang'oro began work on the proposal that would finally turn the AFRI/AFAM curriculum into a full-fledged academic department; the transition would become official on January 1, 1997.15 His predecessors had performed important groundwork, but Nyang'oro had clearly brought great energy to the chair position. The college responded to his efforts with resources and moral support, and by the middle 1990s the AFRI/AFAMcurriculum had come to be a dynamic and intellectually exciting place.

From the very beginning of Nyang'oro's reign as chair, however, the AFRI/AFAM curriculum was also marked by another characteristic: it attracted a disproportionate share of athletes—especially from the profit sports, and even more especially from the basketball team. To be sure, there would have been nothing sinister in the initial attraction. At a time when African and African American studies was at the forefront of campus discussion, and when UNC's Black Student Movement actively promoted study of and respect for the culture of the African diaspora, it made perfect sense that athletes from the profit sports, who were disproportionately black, would take a new interest in the AFRI/AFAM curriculum. The curriculum, like several other small academic units on campus, also had a well-established track record of offering independent study courses—in part, no doubt, because the faculty wished to meet growing student demand and compensate for the limited course offerings available in a curriculum with few permanent faculty. Independent study courses were always a boon for athletes because they met irregularly and thus eased pressures on class and practice schedules. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, athletes routinely sought out independent study courses for their class schedules, especially during their playing seasons, and they had regular success finding them in the Departments of Geography, Philosophy, and Radio, Television, and Motion Pictures as well as AFRI/AFAM.


Excerpted from Cheated by Jay M. Smith, Mary Willingham. Copyright © 2015 Jay M. Smith and Mary Willingham. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Figures    
List of Tables    
Introduction: The Scandal beneath the Scandals    
Chapter 1. Paper-Class Central    
Chapter 2. A Fraud in Full    
Chapter 3. The Making of a Cover-up    
Chapter 4. Lost Opportunities    
Chapter 5. The University Doubles Down    
Chapter 6. On a Collision Course    
Chapter 7. “No one ever asked me to write anything before”    
Chapter 8. Tricks of the Trade    
Chapter 9. Echoes across the Land    
Conclusion: Looking to the Future    


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Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
B-loNY More than 1 year ago
Scholastically underachieving African American athletes + college politics + paper class studies = a growing university bank account and a student athlete joke. Not just UNC
Anonymous More than 1 year ago