The North Carolina academic scandal took another twist late on Tuesday night as the Raleigh News & Observer published yet another article on the investigation.
Instead of focusing on the African and Afro-American Studies department, the N&O dug up some information on a Naval Weapons System class that attracted a high-concentration of athletes. 30 of the 38 students in the class were athletes, and of those 30, six were basketball players. Bobby Frasor spoke on record about the class to the paper, and while he declined to name which of his teammates also took the class, the paper did identify Tyler Hansbrough as one of the six.
According to the report, it was the only time in the past six years that the class had basketball players in it.
That fact, in and of itself, isn’t troubling.
The syllabus for the NAVS 302 class shows that it was a different type of course than in other years. It had no required exams or quizzes and no major research paper. Students received much of their grade from a two- to three-page double-spaced midterm paper and a group project that required a 20-minute oral presentation split among five students.
Frasor recalled the paper was on weaponry and the presentation was on battle scenarios.
The professor for the class, Lt. Brian Lubitz, taught it only once, UNC records show. […]
The current head of the Naval Science Department at UNC, Capt. Doug Wright, said the course work requirements in that particular class had troubled his predecessor, Capt. Stephen Matts, so much that Matts told subsequent instructors he wanted them changed. Later course outlines show quizzes, tests and papers or presentations. Matts could not be reached.
Wright said he would have made the same changes because the class as structured under Lubitz would make it difficult to determine whether the students were learning the material.
Now, there is an important distinction to make here.
No-show classes, like what was happening in UNC’s AFAM department, are a problem. Having courses adjusted to make them easier so athletes can enroll in them, which is what yesterday’s revelation appears to say, is a problem.
But athletes gossiping about, and clustering in, classes that are rumored to be easy?
That happens on every college campus and includes far more students whose only athletic achievement involves an x-box controller than students who are on athletic scholarships. I certainly did it. I took four years of spanish in high school and, as a senior in college, enrolled in an Intro Spanish class with a teacher that I had heard graded quite easily. I took a half-credit Geology course that I knew was only graded with online, multiple-choice tests, and the enrollment in that class might have been 75% athletes. I took multiple Anthropology courses with one professor that I knew to be quite easy and that also brought her dog to class.
And I was an economics major at Vassar.
It also should be noted that simply having a large number of athletes in one class or one major isn’t indicative of cheating, either. At a school like North Carolina, the coaches are more concerned about having their athletes in practice than whether or not they are getting into the classes they want to take. (I doubt the players complain about that.) The more players that are in a class that meets at Noon instead of 7 p.m., the easier it becomes to schedule practices with the majority of the roster able to attend.
Don’t take what I’ve written here as evidence that North Carolina hasn’t cheated. I’m not saying that. I don’t know anything more than what’s been reported.
My point is simply that there needs to be more than a high percentage of athletes and an easy syllabus for a class to constitute academic fraud.