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finding our carolina way

In an effort to meet my graduation requirement within the traditional four year window, I spent the summer of 2004 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on campus enrolled in a handful of different courses. I had transferred in to UNC as a junior in the fall of 2003, and in doing so I had no other choice but to sacrifice 13 business related course credits that I had accumulated at my previous institution. UNC has a very proud business school in Kenan-Flagler and they do not generally accept transfer credits from competing institutions. Sacrificing credits definitely put me a bit behind schedule for an on-time graduation as I was asked to give up nearly a full semester of work. But in my eyes it was absolutely worth it to gain admission into such a prestigious university. And I was happy to stay for the summer of 2004 to make further headway on my degree. UNC is a wonderful place and I was not eager to head back to my roots in Pennsylvania. Chapel Hill was my new home.

I enrolled at UNC in 2003 as a History major. I chose for History to be my focus quite simply because I truly enjoyed it and my plan as an undergrad was to pursue a master’s degree in Sports Administration or Sports Management following the completion of my Bachelor’s anyway. So I wasn’t really all that concerned with my undergraduate focus. I simply wanted to expose myself to all of the educational resources and riches that a place like Chapel Hill has to offer. And the university really does a great job of encouraging students to get involved in a variety of courses outside of their major. I believe there is tremendous value in that. College is meant to be a growth experience. And growth is fostered in situations where students are asked to participate in areas a bit removed from their comfort zones. Exploring new, challenging subject matter promotes the development alternative modes of reasoning which allow for greater successes later on in life.

One of the requirements for graduation at UNC Chapel Hill is the fulfillment of a number of different “perspective” courses. I can’t recall all of the individual headers of the groupings, but I do remember there being perhaps five or so of them in total that we as undergrads needed to fulfill. During the summer of 2004, I enrolled in The Ethics of Sport, a course that would fulfill the requirement of my philosophical perspective. The lecture style course was to be led by Jan Boxill. In entering the class I knew very little about her. Today, Jan is known by everyone inside and outside of UNC who has been following the Wainstein investigation into the academic scandal that took place in the AFAM department between 1993 and 2011.

The Wainstein investigation uncovered some very incriminating evidence regarding Boxill and her relationship with AFAM scandal spearhead, Deborah Crowder. But I am not here to write about the investigation and Boxill’s wrongdoings in relation to our student athletes. I’m here to share my perspective on Jan and on UNC academics and athletics based upon my personal experiences in Chapel Hill. The national media has had its opportunity to take a swing at our university and its faculty, administration, and proud athletics program. And they’ve done so with strong condemnation of our systems and oversight. And rightfully so. I am not here to debate that. We screwed up…big time.

My experience in Jan Boxill’s Ethics of Sport class was a very positive one. It should be noted that her summer enrollment was largely comprised of athletes…mainly football, women’s basketball, and a couple of men’s basketball players. But there were non-athletes like myself as well. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that athletes made up a high percentage of her class; athletes accounted for the largest percentage of individuals remaining on campus for the summer as a result of the offseason conditioning demands of their sports.

We did real coursework in Jan Boxill’s class. And it was not by any means the easiest course that I took while at Chapel Hill. Jan was a very engaging woman. And she encouraged the participation of all of us in discussions during her lectures. She did not shy away from calling on athletes. In fact, I would say that it was quite the opposite. She often joked with them in a manner that would allow them to open up a bit and put down their guards as on-campus celebrities. You could certainly tell that she enjoyed working with them. Perhaps there was favoritism offered in the gradebook, but I never witnessed anything of that nature openly.

Another thing to note is the attendance of all athletes in Jan’s course. I can tell you with certainty that the athletes in her Ethics of Sport class attended our lectures on a regular basis. And they did not come in and simply sit down to take a nap. Jan would have never allowed that. It was in her course that I first took note of the academic support staff sitting at the back of the room with printouts of headshots of members of the football team. That staff was monitoring attendance and ensuring that everyone was in their seats as they were meant to be. Those guys did show up. They had to – the coaching staff and administration made sure of it.

I actually had the privilege of getting to know basketball players Marvin Williams and Quentin Thomas as a result of that Ethics of Sport course in the summer of 2004. Both Marvin and Quentin were incoming freshmen. And they were great kids. I was always amazed at how very humble they were despite their BIG reputations as stars of the hardwood. They did not appear to have any sense of entitlement. They came to Chapel Hill ready to work for all that they would ultimately achieve. Marvin made his impact immediately. He became a key contributor to the overall success of our 2005 National Championship team. Unfortunately for Roy Williams he departed for the NBA after just one season in Chapel Hill.

The realities brought to light by the recent investigation into the academic scandal of the AFAM department on campus have really been harmful to the overall perception of the student athlete at UNC. The actions of a few have cost the reputations of many. And by a few, I am referencing Deb Crowder and those on the academic support side of the athletics department who understood her intentions and utilized her course offerings to bolster GPA’s and keep athletes eligible. I will never deny that 3,100 (students overall) is a big figure. That’s a whole lot more than a “few” and those figures have resulted in a major black eye for the university. But let’s keep in mind who really failed here. It was not the student athletes involved in paper courses, but the handful staff members that drove them there.

My perception of Jan Boxill was that she was a great lady. Very intelligent, well spoken – I felt that I got a lot out of her course. She definitely enjoyed working with athletes, and perhaps in an effort to support them she made some really, really bad decisions. I don’t necessarily believe that Deb Crowder was a woman with ill intentions. She simply desired to help those that she felt were not well prepared to handle the demands of the curriculum at UNC. And I don’t believe that any of the members of the academic support staff affiliated with our athletes were bad people, either. They simply offered an inexcusable solution to a problem that every major college athletics department faces. How do we keep student athletes eligible when the demands of their sport begin impacting their ability to succeed in the classroom?

My position on this subject is the same as it is on the administration of our country. If you want to encourage individuals to make the most of their talents and skills, you do not simply hand things to them, you empower them. As Chancellor Folt eloquently pointed out at yesterday’s news conference, our administration failed our students and our student athletes by allowing this to happen. Student athletes in particular were judged upon their ability to succeed before they were even given the opportunity to fail. We sought an easy way AROUND the problem, not a solution for it. And that saddens me. We are better than that. And so are our student athletes. I know that to be true as I could immediately recognize the innocence in the eyes of guys like Marvin Williams and Quentin Thomas. They were scared kids as incoming freshmen, and we had the ability as a university to help mold them into something that they could be proud of both athletically and academically. It’s a shame that we decided the academic fates of so many our student athletes by assuming that they were not capable of success in the lecture hall. That’s the easy way, not THE CAROLINA WAY.

As a proud alum of our great university, a passionate follower of our athletics program, and a current resident of Chapel Hill, today is a difficult day for me. I didn’t sleep well at all last night. In fact, I had dreams about this stuff that kept me restless until morning. But when morning did finally arrive, the sun did rise again. And as I look out the window now I am able to see a cloudless sky painted in Carolina blue. And I’m reminded that we too will rise again. This isn’t the end of our novel, it’s simply a chapter in the evolution of a great university and its storied athletics program.

We can’t always choose what happens to us in this life. And we cannot rewrite the past. Sometimes there is no other option but to stand tall in the face of adversity and keep grinding. I think as alumni and fans, we need to pull together and grow from this experience. It’s important for us to try not to get involved in the negative discussions taking place outside of the UNC family. It’s not beneficial for any of us. We need to rally around our student athletes and around coaches like Larry Fedora who are doing the right things and who weren’t even on campus at the time that these scandals took place. Those men and women have been working hard to represent our university with class and pride throughout this painful investigative process over the last several years. And they’ve had to bear a whole lot more of this burden than we can even begin to imagine.

A couple of weeks ago I sat in the stands at Notre Dame and watched one of the gutsiest Tar Heel football performances that I’ve ever seen in a 50-43 loss to the then 5th ranked Fighting Irish. I was filled with pride for my team and our great university as a result of what I witnessed in their effort on that picturesque fall afternoon in South Bend. It was by no means a perfect performance, but it was special nonetheless. To see a team battle that hard in the face of adversity and criticism prompted by three straight losses made me feel honored to be a Tar Heel. And I think it’s time, in the wake of this scandal that we come together and offer to go to battle with them. They have not stopped fighting for us. Why should we quit on them?

It would be a great disservice for the Carolina family to turn its back on our student athletes due to the findings of the of Wainstein investigation. Let’s not repeat history. We’ve failed them once. Let’s not allow for it to happen ever again in our future. We need to empower our student athletes. They have been working hard and are committed to doing the right things. They need our support. Now more than ever we need to wear our colors with pride and rally together. We may have lost our way momentarily, but together I am certain that we can find our way back.

Grow through adversity, and never cease in the pursuit of excellence. Get up and fight…because that’s THE CAROLINA WAY. Go Heels!