Saturday, November 5, 2016

Tarnished Heels -- Conclusion and Author's Note

After nearly four years of scandals there ultimately are very few definitive answers.  Not because of a lack of evidence, but rather due to an obstinate lack of cooperation and openness by UNC.  The university has held on tooth and nail to an ideal, all while trying to protect an image of past glories.  As a result, the public has slowly formed a jaded view of an institution that had once appeared to have some leaders of virtue.  What is left is a series of “what if” questions, the answers to which would likely have put an end to the scandal – one way or another – long beforehand.  Those answers would have also allowed a process of healing to begin, as well as shown that the university valued character.
-- What if all of the emails and phone records of Julius Nyang’oro had been released and thoroughly dissected to determine the original birthplace of the AFAM scandal?
-- What if the list of basketball and football players whose grades were changed had been released, and the effects of those grades on their GPA (and eligibility) were clearly outlined?
-- Along those lines, what if the transcripts of former athletes had been closely inspected to see if academic fraud (from no matter what academic department) had indeed kept them eligible to participate?
-- What if the hiring practices of those closely tied to athletics were more closely and honestly examined, as well as the connections between UNC alumni and people providing impermissible benefits to athletes?
-- What if more members of the university’s faculty had spoken up in defense of the school’s academic reputation, and against the protection that was continually offered to the major revenue sports teams?
-- What if the students and alumni who had earned honest degrees had spoken up in outrage for the same reason – the defense of the school’s academic, as opposed to athletic, reputation?
-- What if Chancellor Holden Thorp had refused the suggestions of the Board of Trustees and Board of Governors and decided against hiring a myriad of lawyers and public relations experts, and instead offered full transparency into the university’s darkest corners of the past? 
-- Along those lines, what if the school had not delayed and/or refused countless Freedom of Information Act requests from the media?
-- Essentially, what if those associated with the school had truly practiced what they professed to be the “Carolina Way,” and chosen to come clean and start the healing process much sooner?
            Sadly, the answer to the majority of those questions has become painfully obvious as each month and year has passed.  Data and information strongly suggests that many players would have been retroactively ineligible, wins would have been vacated, and yes – those national championship banners which constituted so much of the school’s national image and pride would have been null and void.  Despite NCAA president Mark Emmert having said that universities must eradicate the “sports are king” mindset when he handed down Penn State’s punishment in 2012, his bold sentiment has still not spread to encompass the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 
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             A quote used by some parents who strive to be solid role models goes as follows:  “Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be.”  That statement is attributed to David Bly, a Minnesota politician and former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, as well as a former teacher.  They are strong words to live by, especially for adults who truly believe in positive modeling for the young.  The words also provide an interesting case study for factions within UNC.
            If past and present players, coaches, students, professors, staff members, administrators, and any others claiming to be associated with Chapel Hill had any desire to set an example for those who might look up to them, yet took a hard look at their own actions and true motives, what would they see?  Would they see people they would want their children to become?  Hundreds, if not thousands, have chosen to remain silent in the face of overwhelming evidence of athletic/academic fraud, all apparently in order to protect an image and brand name.  Along the same lines, what would the adults associated with the NCAA see?  Based on past collegiate cases of impropriety, they have picked and chosen when to enforce their standards with favoritism apparently a guiding principle.  Despite what Mark Emmert had proclaimed in the past, the NCAA had still allowed sports to be king in Chapel Hill.
            The stark reality, however, is that it should have never been necessary to expect and require the NCAA to police and punish the activities that had taken place at UNC.  If the “Carolina Way” truly stood for all of the honorable platitudes that the school, its workers, and its graduates would have the rest of the world believe, then adults would have stood up, admitted what had transpired in the past, and done the right thing.  Because that was, after all, what the “Carolina Way” was supposed to mean. 
            The athletic/academic scandals within the halls of the campus buildings in Chapel Hill had long been the proverbial elephant in the room.  Unfortunately, athletic glory had been shown to be countless times more valuable than integrity.  From a center of higher learning, that is a sad testament not only to our society, but also to the morals and values of the adults associated with that school – adults whose charge was to set a solid example and foundation for the young.  A degradation of morals and character had stepped to the forefront over the past few years, and is what the leadership of the university appears to now stand for and accept as right. 

No matter what new information comes out, and whether the NCAA ever takes the correct action and fully investigates the fraud or not, the charade of morality will be over unless those adult factions actually own up to the errors of the past.  The honor and integrity of doing things “the right way” have sadly been overtaken by pride and poor judgment.  Until a true will to change is shown from the school itself, it will be negative traits that will define the university going forward.  Until that honest repentance happens, the “Carolina Way” will remain a remnant of the past.
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When gathering data, researching articles and information, and then actually writing this book, a number of disturbing issues stood out.  Most of them were likely obvious from the narrative: the lack of those in positions of leadership to tackle a blatant problem head-on; cheating done for some sort of institutional, personal, and/or financial gain; and so forth.  By the end of the book, however, the aspect that was perhaps the most frustrating dealt with the abuse of our education system.  Education has been such a hot topic for years -- not just at select colleges and universities, but nationwide and on all levels from kindergarten on up.  Teachers in primary and secondary schools remain underpaid and underappreciated, yet are held to high (and ever-changing) testing standards, most of which are widely criticized as being largely without merit when it comes to properly preparing our youth for adulthood and careers.  That is, of course, a topic for an entirely different book.  But what has been shown throughout this account at UNC is an utter lack of respect for the education process.  The fraud, cheating, and cover-ups have essentially created a trickle-down effect from the university, to the students, to the public education system (high school on down), to the teachers who are trying diligently to prepare their students despite many obstacles, and even to parents who have questions and frustrations about their children's education and future well-being.  In essence, not only were morals and values compromised at the University of North Carolina, but so too was the supposed purpose and mission of an institute of higher learning: to teach students.  The result of the UNC scandal is one that reflects an overall de-emphasis on the value of an education in our country and, as a parent, that is truly troubling and sad.