After years of deflecting responsibility for the paper-class scandal at UNC Chapel Hill, the truly liable parties have finally been indicted.No, I’m not referring to head basketball coach Roy Williams or any other coaches. I’m referring to deans in the College of Arts and Sciences, whose negligence allowed the aberrant classes to persist for over a decade. In the NCAA’s amended notice of allegations (NOA), released April 25, the NCAA twice admonishes “individuals in the athletics and academic administrations on campus, particularly in the college of arts and sciences” for failing to address known anomalies in African and Afro-American Studies classes. Essentially, though the classes were listed as lecture-based, a department assistant managed them as independent studies. A previous investigation found no fewer than four deans who had at least some knowledge of the classes. One of those deans even told an athletics official that the class structure was within the professor’s purview.Yet despite the clear failings of UNC Chapel Hill’s academic administrators to ensure educational quality for their students, and despite the complete absence of evidence implicating any coaches, the local and national media have clamored to depict the Tar Heels athletics program as the epitome of corruption.Journalist Walter Kirn’s insight into the media’s workings is apropos here. He once tweeted, “This is how it works now with the news: the story begins with a moral, then a narrative is fashioned to support it.”Most educated people today recognize the systemic injustices in college athletics and support reform. In an otherwise worthy attempt to call attention to those injustices, activist-journalists have fashioned a narrative about the paper-class scandal bereft of facts but propelled by moral outrage. Across the media landscape, expressing moral outrage over college athletics is currently in vogue, and journalists try to be intellectually hip if nothing else. Criticizing college athletics is far more fashionable than questioning elite universities’ general commitment or lack thereof to educational quality. Thus, commentators have interpreted the paper-class scandal not for what it is but for what confirms their current biases.Another apparent trend among commentators is interjecting elements of sexism into an already sensationalized narrative. Much of the initial outcry over the amended NOA portrays the NCAA as scapegoating the women’s basketball team. Such outcry, however, reveals a blatant disregard for what the NOA actually says. Yes, women’s basketball is the only team specifically named, but the additional infractions for which the team is highlighted have nothing to do with the paper classes. Rather, the additional infractions involve an academic counselor’s providing impermissible assistance with writing papers. Rather than assign blame primarily to any team or teams, the NCAA rightly assigns most of the blame for the paper classes to academic administrators.Ironically, the NCAA’s specifically targeting academic administrators shows that the college athletics governing body is more willing to address issues of educational quality than most commentators have been. The paper-class scandal was indeed a case of neglecting educational quality and should have sparked serious discussions in the press about higher-education reform. Instead, commentators have seemed more eager to stick with what’s currently trendy, merely adding to the profusion of voices already scrutinizing college athletics.When the NCAA appears more concerned with educational quality than the press is, we shouldn’t be surprised that higher education is in need of such serious reform. Bradley Bethel is a former teacher and currently a documentary filmmaker who lives in Carrboro. His film “Unverified: The Untold Story Behind the UNC Scandal” is screening at festivals this spring.
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