UNC must welcome scrutiny as opportunity, Folt says

Chancellor Carol L. Folt says it’s important for the University to make amends by fully acknowledging mistakes that led to athletic and academic scandals, mistakes that could have been avoided – and must be avoided in the future.

“As one of a small number of leading national research universities that also has a highly competitive athletic program, what happens at Chapel Hill is of great interest both regionally and nationally,” Folt told the University Board of Trustees on Jan. 23. “We have to accept and do accept that scrutiny. We have to welcome it, and see it as a tremendous opportunity for us.

“The scrutiny that is taking place here is, of course, part of a much larger national conversation about the role and the impact of college sports and even further about the commitment schools are making to ensure that students are receiving the support they need to succeed in the classroom, to advance to graduation, as well as on the playing field.”

Significant reforms were put in place before her arrival, and they continue, Folt said.

When she arrived on campus in July, Folt began working with Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost James W. Dean Jr. to ensure that everything concerning athletics is in proper alignment with the University’s academic mission.

To that end, Dean and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham are co-chairing the Student-Athlete Academic Initiative working group, and strong initiatives are already under way in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes.

Folt praised faculty, staff and administrators for the tremendous amount of time and effort they have put in to make needed reforms.

However, Folt also said that to move forward, Carolina must also “fully acknowledge and accept lessons of our past.”

She added: “These are messages that I believe have not been made clear enough to the Carolina community and to the public.”

Even though there is no evidence that anomalous courses in the since-renamed African and Afro-American studies department were initiated to benefit student-athletes, nearly half of the students who took those courses were student-athletes, she said.

“Offering courses that were unsupervised was not reflective of the standards that we expect for our University,” Folt said. “All of those students who were involved in those courses deserved better from us.”

And for years, she said, the University permitted these fraudulent courses to continue because of a lack of academic oversight. “This, too, was wrong and it has undermined our integrity and our reputation, and it’s created a very unhealthy atmosphere of distrust,” Folt said.

She said it was her hope that Carolina could become a positive voice in the larger national conversation about the proper role of athletics in higher education. But first, she stressed, Carolina must make sure “our own house is in order.”

Debate is essential, Folt said, and disagreement is inevitable.

“But whether we’re going to agree or disagree, we have to really make this a healthy debate,” she said “We have to welcome it, and we have to respect each another in this debate, and do it in ways that show the true character of our Carolina community.”

The many lessons learned, she said, can only make Carolina stronger.

“I believe that we are a Carolina that will always be changing. Always be improving. And when we do it right, we’ll always be leading.”

Published January 23, 2014.