This picture, which became the thumbnail for the whole UNC academic scandal, is not a picture of an A-minus paper. It's not even a picture of a completed paper. According to Mary Willingham, the whistleblower from the Outside The Lines piece in which the paper was shown, it is probably a draft paragraph, to be used as part of a larger take-home final for an intro class.
If you listen to the interview, at around the 3:05 mark, Willingham, showing the paper, says "this is not even close to college work, yet this athlete was awarded an A-." A new question abruptly follows. According to Willingham, she never said the athlete was awarded an A- for the paper, but that the student received an A- in the class.
Willingham discovered sham classes that UNC called independent studies that merely required a student to write a paper without ever attending class. The way the piece was edited made it seem like this Rosa Parks paragraph was an example of such a paper. But it's not, it's from an actual intro class in African American studies.
So, while UNC clearly has students who can barely write on an adult level, that picture is not the smoking gun for scam classes. It's just a picture of a portion of poorly written draft of a take home final. Jordan Weissmann from Slate spoke with Willingham and learned more.
It's an original document from an athlete for an essay—for a final. That's all I know," she told me, later adding, "That is the grade level the person was writing at. That's the point."
It's a fair point, too, but one that gets lost in the punchline the segment and image created. What a joke, that paper got an A-minus. But that's not the real joke. The real joke is that it was written. A person enrolled in a major university in this country wrote that with the intention of submitting to a college professor. And the only reason it was even written in the first place was to pass some kind of smell test for the NCAA.
OK, so, that's the real joke.