Personal Thoughts on the UNC Scandal

Being an undergraduate at Carolina changed my life in ways that are difficult for me to describe. I entered as an un-initiated kid, and left with a passion for health policy and on my way to being a professor (OK, I wouldn’t have predicted Duke then). As I wrote in an op-ed in the News and Observer in September, 2012

I have been deeply embarrassed by what I have read about my alma mater over the past two years. Whatever has happened that is wrong needs to be laid bare, and strong plans made to ensure the same mistakes are not made again.

I am beyond deeply embarrassed by the Wainstein report. Basically, from the early 1990s until 2011, the pride taken by people like me in “the Carolina way” of athletics was a lie. And of course pride is one of the seven deadly sins.

One thing that is abundantly clear from the report is that this was an athletic scandal. The number of sham courses–around 3,100, half of them taken by varsity athletes–is a numerator over a denominator of around 3.2 Million courses taken by undergraduates during that period. The promise of Carolina is still true for those who take advantage of it, or who are allowed to do so. I don’t blame the kids for what took place. The adults are responsible. They are responsible for the nearly unforgivable sin of a teacher telling a student in word and deed that they have no chance to succeed from the start. Or putting them into a situation in which they would inevitably fail.

I love sports, and am even a middle school football coach. While the notion of a true student athlete (attends college, just happens to play a sport) is incompatible with big time college revenue sports and has not been fully true for some time (football and basketball playsers are students with full time jobs to boot), i still want to believe that it can be done well. And that the benefits that come from sports that are enjoyed by so many, are not produced by the inevitable cost of the athletes themselves not getting an education.

This episode is certainly a data point that casts doubt on my hope.

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy at Duke University (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute). I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy, and currently serve as Chair of Duke's University Priorities Committee (UPC). My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

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