After UNC scandal, student-athletes reflect
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s academic fraud scandal — during which more than 3,100 students received credits and grades from bogus courses — has cast a bright spotlight on the academic lives of collegiate student-athletes, who represent a disproportionately large number of those implicated at Chapel Hill.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, Dartmouth’s former interim president, has called the fraud both an academic and athletics issue. That she acknowledged that the fraud touched athletics is a far cry from former chancellor Holden Thorp’s characterization of the decades-long fraud as purely academic.
According to an extensive report from investigator Kenneth Wainstein, academic counselors from UNC’s football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams purposefully steered athletes toward fraudulent classes. The practice lasted from 1993 to 2011, when the African and Afro-American studies department administrator who had overseen the scheme retired.
Student-athletes enrolled in the “shadow curriculum,” as the 131-page October investigation called it, did not need to attend class and often had to submit only a final paper to get the grades they needed to maintain NCAA eligibility. In many cases, the final papers were plagiarized. Of the students enrolled in the lecture paper courses, about 47 percent were athletes.
Prior to assuming the role of UNC’s chancellor, Folt served at Dartmouth for 30 years, holding the positions of dean of faculty, provost and finally, interim president.
As both the NCAA and individual institutions set eligibility standards for student-athletes, who typically must meet a credit or GPA benchmark, academics and athletics can quickly intertwine.
While UNC’s student-athlete population accounts for just 4 percent of the student body, Dartmouth’s comprises nearly 25 percent. Support systems like individual counseling and Dartmouth Peak Performance help these students balance academic and athletic demands.
Jon Katzman ’17, a football kicker, said DP2 has helped him learn about classes, job opportunities and academics in general. Athletes can also find tutors through the program.
“Taking advantage of what DP2 has to offer is certainly encouraged by our coach because it puts us in a better place to succeed on and off the field,” he said.
Last year, the National Association of Basketball Coaches honored Gabas Maldunas ’15 for earning over a 3.2 cumulative GPA as a junior or senior. Maldunas was the only one of his teammates eligible for this distinction.
Dartmouth, Harvard University and Yale University were the only Ivy League schools with at least one men’s basketball player recognized for the honor.
During the 2013-14 academic year, the average GPA each term ranged from 3.44 last fall to 3.53 in the spring.
Gary Gutting, a University of Notre Dame professor who penned a 2012 op-ed in The New York Times titled “The Myth of the ‘Student-Athlete,’” said in an interview that it’s “foolish” to expect much academic success from athletes who fall short of a college’s ordinary admissions standards, especially because of their time-consuming athletic schedules.
Charlotte Kamai ’16, however, said swimming has taught her to balance multiple commitments. Kamai was one of 80 students across the Ivy League to earn an Academic All-Ivy honor — a distinction that requires at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA while being a key athlete on a team.
“Being on a team makes me a better student,” she said. “Practices take up a huge amount of time, which gives me rigid schedule and forces me to be productive. It holds me accountable and gives me something to strive for.”
Kamai said athletes use DP2 in different ways, but that she has found free tutoring from the Tutor Clearinghouse and career counseling to be two of the most helpful resources.
Maldunas echoed Kamai’s sentiments about academic support programs, calling DP2 very helpful with providing tutors and advisors. He attributed some of the team’s improved academic performance over the past couple of seasons to DP2, which launched in 2011.
“The coaches take our academics very seriously as well, and they would always let us skip practice or come in late if we have an academic conflict,” he said. “They know that we are students as much as we are athletes.”
Assistant athletic director for DP2 Katelyn Stravinsky, who directs athletes to appropriate resources, said she stresses accountability for student-athletes, meaning they must ask for help when needed.
Katie Fuhs ’18, of the women’s soccer team, said being a student-athlete at Dartmouth is difficult, but noted that she knew before coming that she would get overwhelmed. She said she has had to miss several class periods, but that she has been pleased with academic support systems.
Fuhs said one professor has required her to attend some Friday classes she would have missed for games, leading Fuhs to stay behind or find a “Plan B” for travel, she said.
“‘When the heck does everyone else get their work done?’” she recalled asking herself when looking at her teammates. “Because it seems like I’m the only one struggling to keep up.”
Basketball associate head coach Jean Bain said prioritizing academics and effectively managing time can challenge student-athletes, who spend numerous hours practicing each week. The NCAA, which governs Dartmouth athletic rules, limits in-season practice time to 20 hours a week.
“I cannot speak highly enough of the coaches and athletic administrators in helping with my academic success,” Kamai said. “They strongly emphasize that we are student-athletes — meaning student always comes first.”
Gutting said many athletes are students first, especially those who play sports that do not yield much revenue.
Maldunas said he and his teammates try to choose easier classes in the winter, when the season is in full force, and save more work-intensive classes for the spring or summer. He attributed part of his academic success to knowing which classes to take and when.
Religion professor Randall Balmer said he designed his “Sports, Ethics and Religion” class with athletes in mind because he wanted to appeal to their interests and enhance their academic experiences. Enrollment tallied 272 as of press time.
“I was concerned that some athletes might come to Dartmouth feeling a tad overmatched — or at least intimidated — by the academics at an Ivy League school,” he said.
Balmer said, however, he fears a few students mistakenly expected his class to be a “gut,” or “layup.”
To English professor Donald Pease, an incident paralleling UNC’s scandal could never happen at Dartmouth, where “everything is in broad daylight and there wouldn’t be the possibility of a shadow situation.”
Several other students and faculty members echoed the unlikelihood of a similar scheme happening at Dartmouth.
“At the end of the day, we’re all here to get an education, so I don’t think I could see that happening at Dartmouth,” women’s soccer player Lucielle Kozlov ’16 said.
By the same token, women’s cross country co-captain Sarah DeLozier ’15 said most student-athletes are at the College because of academic goals, and that things like “layup lists” facilitate balanced course selection, not cheating.
Pease said he treats all his students the same, but accommodates athletic traveling and meets with people who are struggling in his classes, whether they are athletes or not.
Athletes seem to put additional consideration into course selection because of their athletic commitments and may often take easier, non-major classes to achieve a balanced course load, Katzman said.
“A class that doesn’t carry too tough of a workload, yet is intellectually engaging, is the jackpot,” he said.
Gutting said that while a school like Dartmouth may not compromise as much as big-name sports colleges in athletic admissions, the percentage of “athletically-driven admissions” will be higher at a small school with a full array of athletic programs.
Last year, Dartmouth had more programs honored by the NCAA for excellent academic performance than any other school in Division I, with 26 teams recognized, according to the Dartmouth athletics website. Dartmouth student-athletes also had the highest graduation rate for those enrolling at a Division I school in 2007 — a title the College has held for three years.
“If you’re not able to balance both [academics and athletics] then you will struggle here at Dartmouth,” Bain said, acknowledging that college students are surrounded by many temptations. “You must understand the reasons you are here at Dartmouth.”
UNC’s Office of the Chancellor and press office did not respond to requests for comment by press time.