By Jay Smith and Mary Willingham
“THE TRUTH IS in the transcripts,” writes Mary Willingham. “Cheated” is a new release about the academic scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill. Jay Smith is a history professor at the university. Mary Willingham was an academic counselor before she was dismissed by the school. Together they tell the story of what they say is about student-athletes who were cheated out of a college education at UNC.
The authors describe a situation which lasted for 18 years, from 1993 to 2011. It focuses on the Dept. of African and Afro-American studies and professor Julius Nyang’oro who taught and later headed that department. Smith and Willingham claim that athletes were channeled into soft courses in order to keep their eligibility to play sports. These courses, the authors report, were often ones in name only, independent studies where the students received high grades for little or no work required.
Many readers and sports fans will already be familiar with the story as it has been in the news for several years now. Willingham was fired by the university after her whistle blowing interviews with the Raleigh News and Observer, and she recently settled a lawsuit with UNC. Now she has joined with Jay Smith to present the full story, an effort to urge reform of big-time college sports.
There are some startling statistics reported in this book. The authors state that in the academic year, 2004-2005, 31 athletes took paper courses where they did not have to attend class. All 31 made A’s. These were mostly students with C or D averages in other courses. They single out football and basketball star, Julius Peppers, who took 11 of his last 17 courses at UNC in Nyang’oro’s department, eight of them paper courses.
This book is full of statistics and also well written with tidbits of telling symbolism. They write, “From the tiny acorn of 1988, when two struggling basketball players took Nyang’oro’s AFRI 190 in the fall semester, a mighty oak soon grew.” The oak they refer to is large number of athlete’s in such courses a few years later. The story continues through the investigations commissioned by UNC.
This book will upset many who follow college sports, especially those loyal to UNC. It will upset because it hurts the reputation of the school and because it claims to expose practices that cast a shadow on the entire enterprise of what is labeled “student-athletes.”