Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tar Heel "Paper Course" to Ensure Eligibility for Athletes Now a Public Fail

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill is again embroiled in an embarrassing controversy which now impeaches both the Tar Heels  athletic as well as academic reputation.  To try to settle the matter, the University of North Carolina hired Kenneth Wainstein to investigate scholarly controversies in Chapel Hill.  

What Attorney Wainstein found was that from 1993 to 2009, Dr. Julius Nyang'oro "taught" an African American studies course at UNC.  During those 18 years, 3100 students (among them 1500 Tar Heel student-athletes) took a phantom course with easy grades.

In universities with competitive intercollegiate athletic programs, often there are courses which have an easy reputation where many student athletes are enrolled. These student-athletes may also have tutors to make sure that learning is achieved thereby retaining academic eligibility.  

 Dr. Nyang'oro's "shadow curriculum", however, went beyond the pale.  Students in his African American Independent Studies courses never had to meet with the professor, or their scheduled classes actually never occurred. The grade was derived entirely from a single paper, which was often plagiarized and padded. Then these paper were given a cursory read and generously graded by Deborah Crowder, a non-academic motivated to help struggling athletes.

These academic abuses came to light when Nyang'oro retired in 2012. In December 2013, a grand jury charged Nyang'oro with a felony for taking $12,000 for a class which was never held.   These criminal fraud charges were later dropped when Nyang'oro cooperated with authorities like Wainstein, although Chapel Hill did deduct $12,000 from Nyang'oro's final paycheck. 

For several years, administrators in Chapel Hill were content with the conceit that this phantom curriculum was confined to a couple of rogues in the African American Studies department. But Wainstein's investigation, along with academic advisor whistleblower Mary Willingham has revealed a more extensive and sinister customary operating procedure at Chapel Hill for struggling student athletes.

As an academic advisor for athletes, Willingham was a learning specialist designated to help athletes who were not academically equipped for coursework at Chapel Hill to pass their classes.  Willingham sometimes employed phonics reading method so her student athlete could spell Wis-con-sin.  She admits to violating NCAA by rules ignoring cheating which she saw, but the NCAA never interviewed her and they found that the Tar Heels had broken no rules.  

Willingham went public because she could not countenance the fraud of functionally illiterate students passing so that they could keep academic eligibility.  Willingham expected death threats, but she did not expect UNC to disavow her research that between 8% to 10% of student athletes could not read beyond a third grade level.  

Attorney Wainstein's hard hitting report disputed the inference that student athlete cheating were isolated incidents and gave credence to Willingham's data that Tar Heel student athletes were poorly equipped to study at an elite research university, but that a system of phantom curriculum kept them eligible.  Moreover, UNC officials overlooked the number of independent studies courses coming from the African American Studies department, and how many of them were taken by student athletes. 

What was telling was how African American Studies secretary Deborah Crowder negotiated with academic officials as to what grade student athletes required to retain eligibility.  In one case Crowder haggled via e-mail with the Womens' basketball academic adviser about what was the lowest grade that could be given so the player could retain eligibility.

Boxhill, who was the former womens' academic advisor, is now the Director of the UNC Parr Center for Ethics.  Of course, Boxhill was not available for comment.

Wainstein's report reexamined 150 assignments  from this "paper course".  These three outside academic experts found that 25% were plagiarized verbatim from other sources.  It sounds like Montana Senator John Walsh's Masters thesis at the National War College. 

One of the more egregious examples was a paper about the like and works of Nikki Giovanni and African American culture.  This opus simply had a two page introduction and a final page of test and the rest of the paper were transcriptions of poems and texts formatted to fill the margins for the assignment requirements. There is little doubt that the fake class kept many struggling Tarheel student athletes eligible to play.  

The easy grade from the AAS Independent Studies course boosted 169 student athletes above the 2.0 GPA threshold, including 123 football players, 15 mens' basketball players and 5 women hoopsters. So much so, student athletes cajoled their students to get their work in before the gravy train ended:

 "Debbie Crowder is retiring . . . if you would prefer that she read and grade your paper rather than Professor Nyang'oro you will need to have the paper completed before the last day of classes, Tuesday, July 21st."

After Ms. Crowder retired in 2009, the academic average GPA for the Tar Heel football team for the Fall of 2009 dropped to 2.121, the lowest rate in ten years.

The Wainstein report shows that there was a culture of corruption at Chapel Hill and was much more widespread than initially thought over the past three years. Not everyone in charge were willing to play along with the shadow curriculum.  Current Tarheel Mens' Basketball Coach Roy Williams  allegedly felt uncomfortable with these classes and tried to steer his players away from the African American Studies department. However, Rashad McCains, who was part of the 2005 National Championship basketball team, charged Coach Williams of knowing of the fraudulent scheme.

The reason why the Wainstein report is different than two prior investigations into the matter is that Wainstein obtained the cooperation of Nyang'oro and Crowder, the two UNC officials at the center of the scandal.  So far, the Tarheel phantom curriculum scandal has claimed the scalp of Chancellor Holden Thorpe and forced the resignation of Tarheel Football Coach Butch Davis.

The NCAA is also investigating these charges on Chapel Hill cheating. Observers can rightly exclaim that the Tar Heels cheated their way into ten football Bowl appearances and three basketball National Championship under Dean Smith (1993), and Roy Williams (2005 and 2009).  

The problem is that justice delayed is justice denied.  Adjudication (and stonewalling) this situation for so long makes tarnishing the Tar Heels reputation kind of academic.  What would be the just thing for the NCAA to do?  Ultimately, what should the University of North Carolina do to convince the public that it educates its student athletes rather than exploits them with an ersatz degree in exchange for four years of eligibility? 

 Right now, it looks like Chapel Hill's shadow curriculum is a big public fail.

     Fox Sports

UPDATE 01/01/2015  The Tar Heel "Paper Course" scandal has claimed the jobs of two more prominent Chapel Hill academics.  Timothy McMillian, who was  a senior lecturer for 17 years in the African American and Diasphora Studies, resigned in the wake of pattern of no-show courses and gift grades.  

UNC Chancellor Carol Fort also revealed that the university has taken steps to terminate   former faculty leader and Philosophy professor Jeannette Boxhill  for her role in the student athlete scandal.  Despite the fact that termination could take years to adjudicate, Boxhill was named  "in light of the extraordinary circumstances underlying the longstanding and intolerable academic irregularities described in the Wainstein Report, as well as her role as chair of the faculty council during a period of time covered by the report."

On the day the Wainstein Report was issued, former football counselor Beth Bridger, who steered players towards bogus classes, was terminated from her job at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington the day the report was published.

What justice is this?  A low level person gets canned on the day of the report, Professor Nyang'oro retires and receives immunity for cooperation with Wainstein, McMillian "retires" after 17 years and Boxhill's involuntary departure from an ETHICS Center attached to UNC is dropped on New Years Eve.  Considering Boxhill's biography, will she be eligible for full retirement benefits for time served.

And what of the athletic achievements during this period?  

Bobby Bonds on Homers

Bobby Bonds on Homers

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

NHL Rallies Around Ottawa After Terror Attack on Parliament Hill

After the morning terror attack by an Islamist terrorist on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, much of Canada's capital remained in lock down for much of the day. Thus it was no surprise that the NHL postponed the Ottawa Senators- Toronto Maple Leafs game at the Canada Tyre Centre scheduled for the evening.

Social media allowed NHL players, coaches and reporters to express messages of sympathy and solidarity with the besieged Canadians. 

For me, the most touching tribute to our neighbors to the North was at Pittsburgh Penguins-Flyers game in Pittsburgh where the crowd sang O Canada, the Canadian National Anthem.

Neither club was from Canada or a border town, yet American hockey fans recognized this was Canada's 9/11 moment and showed solidarity.

George Brett on Losing

George Brett Kansas City Royals Losing

Monday, October 20, 2014

San Fran Radio Bans Lorde "Royals" During World Series

After the San Francisco Giants beat the St. Louis Cardinals to clinch their right to represent the National League in the 2014 Major League Baseball World Series, two Bay area radio stations made waves.  Both KFOG-FM and KOIT-FM announced bans on playing the minimal art pop song "Royals" by New Zealand chanteuse Lorde.  This ersatz outrage is a silly attempt to generate civic pride for the a World Championship Series with two wildcard teams.

During interviews last year, Lorde became inspired to compose "Royals" in a half-hour writing session after seeing a photo of George Brett signing baseballs.

The song is about aspirationalism and uses pop artists' luxurious lifestyles as a counterpoint.

One would think that there would be more tolerance in the City by the Bay.  Then again, the  message might be challenging to those actually listening to the lyrics of the Lorde's song. 

The radio silence on "Royals" seems like a cheap publicity stunt which jumps on the civic bandwagon while getting earned publicity.  But this may be a desperate ploy to generate enthusiasm in San Francisco for the World Series.  

This is the third time in five years in which the San Francisco Giants have made it to the World Series, whereas it has been a 29 year drought for the Royals.  

This is reflected in World Series ticket prices on the secondary market.  It would not be cheap to see the San Francisco Giants play their World Series home games, averaging around $700 a seat. But in Kansas City, expect to pay between $1,000 to $1250 a ticket to see "Royals" in the World Series up close and personally. 

Peyton Manning on a Legacy

Well, now Peyton Manning's legacy includes the all-time NFL career touchdown record.

 Peyton Manning surpassed  Brett Favre with 509 TDs in 56 fewer games than the prior record holder. 

As for the dethroned TD champion, Favre was nonchalant about having his mark surpassed. Favre opined:

“I don’t really care to be honest with you and I mean that with no disrespect. I think the world of Peyton. I’m not surprised that he’s going to break it.”
In a prior press availability, Favre has indicated that he is glad that Peyton is breaking the record, as he believes that the entire Manning family has class.

That is a legacy of which to be proud.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Kelly Slater on Surfing

Kelly Slater must have really tapped into his joy of surfing during the 2014 Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal on Superturbos beach in  Peniche.  

The 42 year old Slater landed a 540 degree twist (some though it was a 720).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Paul Rudd: "Five Dollar Cover!"

The Kansas City Royals swept the Baltimore Orioles in the 2014 American League Championship Series, breaking a World Series drought of 29 years. Royals fans were ecstatic at the triumph by the Kings of Kaufman Stadium.

Actor Paul Rudd was one of the exhuberant fans on hand four Game 4 celebrating the Royals' victory.  During an interview with KMBC-TV Johnny Kane, Rudd could not contain his joy.

Rudd got so carried away that he joked about a kegger at his mom's house to mark the victory.

Rudd has deep ties to the Kansas City area, having gone to high school in Shawnee Mission (Kansas) and also attended the University of Kansas.  

For a $5 cover, one wonders what sort of beer would be served


Sunday, October 5, 2014

On the Jules Bianchi Crash at the Japan Grand Prix

During the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, Jules Bianchi, the 25 year old Marussia driver from Nice, France,   was critically injured in a crash on the 43th lap on the Suzuka Circuit.  The race was subsequently red flagged and declared over at 44 laps with Mercedes driver Lee Hamilton placing in first.  

Weather conditions had wrecked havoc, as the race was red flagged after two laps because of the rain.  When racing resumed twenty minutes later, it was under a safety care for eight laps before conditions were suitable for regular racing. 

The chronology of fateful events had driver Adrian Sutil following Bianchi on the 43rd lap.  Sutil started to aquaplane and spun out into the tire barrier on turn eight as the rain intensified.  As recovery vehicles were in process of removing Sutil's vehicle from the track, Bianchi's car struck a tractor and careened into a barrier.

Bianchi was unconscious when he was removed from the wreckage. He was suffering from severe head injuries and then underwent an operation to reduce swelling on the brain.  This was the first serious crash on the F1 circuit since Felipe Massa's crash at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Those closely associated with Formula One racing expressed profuse concern over Jules Bianchi's condition.  Many noted how the race results were secondary to how their racing comrade was doing.  This humane attitude was a marked contrast to New York Giant co-owners Steve Tisch's crass comments about the chances of ebola effecting the Dallas Cowboys. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

NY Giants Co-owner Steve Tisch's Sick Sense of Humor

TMZ Sports caught New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch exiting a West Hollywood restaurant if he was concerned about playing in Dallas due to first confirmed case of Ebola being diagnosed in the Big D.

Tisch claimed that the Giants had nothing to worry about for their game on October 19th at Jerryworld (a.k.a. AT and T Stadium).  But Tisch jocularly jibed that the Cowboys would be infected first.  

DC-Jockularity revels in colorful quotes about sports.  Moreover, it does not obsess over political correctness. That being said, Tisch's quips were "too soon"and not the right forum.  The joke might have worked as bar banter among the boys.  But where you stand is where you sit.  Tisch was in public representing the New York Giants as an owner.  His joke seemed like sick humor.  It does not befit a media experienced individual like Tisch.

In 2007, Tufts University awarded Steve Tisch with the P.T. Barnum Award for exceptional work in the media and entertainment.  This award was not an invitation to turn things into a media circus. 

h/t: TMZ Sports

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Catching the Tigers By Their Tails

This is the fourth year in a row that the Detroit Tigers are in the American League Playoffs.  But they have done so despite having a notoriously weak bullpen. 

Since 2012, Detroit has lacked a consistent closer.  Overall, the Tigers bullpen has been the worst in the American League  with an On Base Percentage of .751 and Wins Above Replacement 0.6.  And their statistics for the Ninth Inning are atrocious.

Hence the gallows humor of Tigers fans in the cartoon.

In the first game of the American League Divisional Series, Motown's fatal flaw was especially apparent in the 12-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, with Detroit pitchers giving up eight runs in the eighth inning. 

Want a White Elephant?

Have you ever wondered why Athletics baseball players wear an elephant on their sleeve?  Well, it goes back to the origins of the team.  When the Philadelphia Athletics became one of the charter members of the newly established American League in 1901, owner Benjamin Shibe took a spendthrift approach to staffing his team.  Shibe was willing to pay top dollar to National League ballplayers to join the upstart Philadelphia Athletics.

So in 1902, manager John McGraw, who moved to the National League New York Giants after the first American League Baltimore Orioles franchise folded, was disgusted by Shibe business strategy. McGraw opined that Shibe had a white elephant on his hands.  At the time, a white elephant was a metaphor for something that looked nice but was impossible to maintain.

The Philadelphia Athletics, however, embraced the jibe.  So much so, the Athletics made the White Elephant into the team's mascot.  In fact, Philadelphia Athletics Manager Connie Mack ordered that Athletics jerseys be emblazoned with a White Elephant.  

In the end, John McGraw's musings over the White Elephant A's proved quite wrong.   By 1905, the Athletics were quite profitable and prosperous, earning its way into the championship series.  To underline that point, John McGraw was given a White Elephant by the A's prior to the first game of the 1905 World Series.

New York Giants Manager John McGraw receiving a White Elephant before Game 1 of the 1905 World Series

McGraw was said to have doffed his cap and deeply bowed before the hooting crowd in the City of Brotherly Love.

The White Elephant has been part of the Athletics uniforms for much of their history, including in the A's incarnations in Philadelphia (1901-1954), Kansas City (1955-1967) and Oakland (1968-present).  In 1963, however, A's owner Charlie O. Finley changed the mascot to a mule, perhaps to appeal to Show Me State Democrats. The elephant mascot was restored as the A's symbol in 1988 and was know as Harry Elephante.  Since 1997, the elephant mascot has been called Stomper.


Alas for Oakland fans, the White Elephant is going into off-season hibernation as the A's lost their wildcard game 9-8 in 12 innings to the Kansas City Royals.