The University of North Carolina's academic fraud scandal has deepened and widened, and local officials have done the sensible thing in locating a fall guy. A brief refresher on why they need one: In December, an investigation officially found what had seemed probable from Julis Peppers' unintentionally public transcript: That many students, but particularly student-athletes, had received GPA-boosting grades in essentially bogus classes. They were passing despite being dramatically beneath the academic standards (as in, suffering from "serious literacy deficits") that ostensibly prevail at UNC. Former North Carolina Governor Jim Martin led an investigation into UNC that turned up a lone solid mitigating factor for UNC's administration and athletic department: some "athletic officials and academic support officials" had "raised questions with the Faculty Committee on Athletics" about these easy-A classes in the past. Earlier this month, Martin and his team of investigators retracted that finding.
So, a scapegoat is in order, and they found a guy. Well, not literally. He couldn't be reached for comment and it's not clear whether and to what extent he's still affiliated with the university. But they picked a guy. UNC officials are saying that, like the device in the Superdome that was designed to stop blackouts and which caused the blackout, the director of academic support for athletes, Robert Mercer, was supporting athletes academically by failing to confirm that their independent study classes had any academic merit:
The lack of tracking is doubly troubling. Today, UNC-CH is grappling with one of the worst academic fraud cases ever found at an American university after discovering that since 1997, the chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies Department and his assistant had converted scores of lecture-style classes into independent studies that had heavy enrollment of athletes.
Mercer, according to a report commissioned by UNC-CH, was one of four officials with athletics ties who contended that he and John Blanchard, a senior associate athletic director, raised concerns about the classes to the faculty athletics committee in 2002 and 2006. That report, by former Gov. Jim Martin and the Baker Tilly management consulting firm, accepted their claims.
If Mercer was concerned about those classes, why wasn't he tracking independent studies as he had been asked?
"That should have been followed up on," UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp said. "I wish it had been, because we would have caught all of this stuff."
Mercer could not be reached for comment. In August, he was quietly moved from the director's post to a position outside of the academic support program.
That dang Mercer fella! If only he had been a little more conscientious, the University of North Carolina wouldn't have tacitly supported sham classes at a bogus shadow institution for the last decade and a half, a practice that helped net the university untold millions in endorsements, booster donations, and brand awareness. Somebody find that guy!
Athletics Official Never Checked Independent Study Classes [Charlotte Observer]