Miller: UNC athletes were complicit, but majority of blame falls on officials

Nov. 11, 2014, 11:14 p.m.

This is the third of a multi-part column series on the academic fraud scandal at UNC.

This week, I’d like to continue my thoughts on the “paper class” scandal at UNC by discussing an issue that one of my fellow editors at The Daily raised concerning my last column.

At The Daily, it is standard practice for sports desk editors to write “contact lines” for columnists; these usually appear in italics as the last paragraph of the piece. These sections allow editors to poke fun at the columnists or make witty and satirical observations about the ideas raised in the foregoing writing.

The contact line for my last column read:

Cameron Miller believes that the UNC student-athletes, from their positions of power of being dependent upon the athletics department for their very scholarship, should have blown the whistle on this scandal, rather than the senior athletic department and university officials, who have absolutely no power at any university, and, unlike athletes, are paid to do their jobs.

The editor who wrote this contact line noted the “incongruities of this situation.” Whether this was written in seriousness or in jest (I suspect the former), I’d like to respond to the questions raised by one of my fellow Daily staffers.

I will submit to you that a majority of the Tar Heel student-athletes who benefitted from the AFAM department’s academic fraud were, indeed, “dependent on the athletics department for their very scholarship.” This is an excellent point, and one that I tangentially addressed last week, when I pointed out that the athletes involved in this scam had no incentive (beyond the obvious moral and ethical qualms they should have felt) whatsoever to report what was occurring in their AFAM classes. Why would you bite the hand that was feeding you your NCAA eligibility?

The real issue here is whether athletes would have faced punishment from the athletic department for blowing the whistle on the “paper class” scheme, action that conceivably could have included the loss of their scholarship and, by connection, their access to a high-class education. In my view, such reprisals, although within the realm of possibility, would have been highly, highly unlikely.

If anything, it is my hope that a student-athlete’s self-reporting of the “irregular classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies” might have been met with admiration instead of repression. Sure, many in the UNC athletic department would not have been very fond of the uncovering of their eligibility lifeline, but to go as far as stripping individuals of their scholarships, by punishing someone for doing the right thing, is outrageous.

Any attempt to do so would have almost certainly been met by a gaggle of lawyers and a pile of litigation claiming that athletes were unfairly dealt with for exposing academic fraud (which, by the way, involved the misappropriation of North Carolinians’ taxpayer dollars). In short, there is absolutely no way that any UNC student-athlete would have lost their scholarship if they were to have informed athletic or academic officials of the structure and policies of their AFAM coursework.

In regards to the responsibility of “senior athletic department and university officials” to police and regulate the AFAM department, I completely agree. As I articulated in my first column on this topic, “the most egregious action in the entire situation was on the part of the athletic and academic administrators at UNC. Their actions, or lack thereof, allowed and enabled academic fraud of nearly unparalleled proportions to flourish.” It is clear that my fellow editor who wrote my contact line last week did not understand my position; if he had, he would have realized that I believe that the buck stopped ultimately with the select group of UNC personnel whose responsibility it was to uphold the academic primacy of the institution’s mission. Whether intentionally or unintentionally (evidence presented in the Wainstein report seems to lean towards the former), these individuals failed to uphold that responsibility, compromising their university’s integrity.

The bottom line is this: While I believe the athletes involved in the “paper class” scheme could and should have reported the fraud to university officials, those university officials (including Deborah Crowder and Julius Nayng’oro) must shoulder a majority of the blame for the creation and perpetuation of the scam.

Cameron Miller’s editor is now afraid of suffering from the “Taylor Swift” effect of being written into one of his columns. To discuss the UNC academic fraud scandal with him, or how Cameron knew his editor was “trouble when he walked in,” please e-mail him at cmiller6 ‘at’

Cameron Miller is a sports desk editor for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 246 and is the men's and women's golf writer. He also writes on NCAA-related matters. Cameron is also a Stanford student-athlete, competing on the cross country and track and field teams. He is originally from Bakersfield, California, but spends most of his time away from the Farm on the state's Central Coast. Contact him at [email protected].

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