Honor Abandoned at UNC
Guest column by W. Douglas Cooper
Are the incremental benefits of the Chapel Hill Campus response to “The Great Unpleasantness” of academic scandal relative to its costs good policy? Cut through the rhetoric, that is the question! I am the author of the Op-ed published in the April 27 News and Observer, “At UNC-CH: A Campus Without Honor.”
Needless to say I have been taken aback by the negative reaction my call to speak-out in support of Jay Smith and Mary Willingham against academic fraud and monetary gains from athletics has generated.
It is ironic that as a participant in a seminar given at UNC-CH in the early 80s, I argued to the group that business ethics was about “good policy/bad policy within a framework of agreed rules of law.” As a PhD. economist trained at what our graduates called the University of Chicago at Raleigh, I argued for a free-market, within rules of law, solution to the questions of business ethics. The test of ethical behavior questions turned on whether actions were good, long-term policy within the rule of law. Over the past 20 years UNC-CH has won numerous athletic championships within a structure of academic fraud admitted to the SACSCOC accreditation body. From these championships the institution has reaped rewards in the hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars associated with the branding effects of these “ill-gotten-gains.” Thus, at this point it looks as though the actions of the Chapel Hill campus re athletics during the past 20 years has been “good policy” thus “good ethics.” However, in my field of Supply Chain Management we differentiate between the two terms global optimization (good for the many) and local optimization (good for the few.) This differentiation should be considered within the realm of situational ethics.
Consider the person, like myself, who has taught thousands of student-credit hours at multiple campuses of our university and put my self-interest in harm’s way in the name of academic integrity and honesty. What are we now to think given the university sees to stand mute about academic fraud as “good policy?” What does it say to young faculty re what is expected of them? What does it say to students? It says it’s OK TO CHEAT!! The first reactions to my above Op-ed was not about the question of honor but, “Is this a Wolfpacker?” And yes, although I have held senior status at 3 and taught at 5 of our university campuses, I am a Wolfpacker. But my new born daughter and I spent many an evening at the Tar Heel Motor Lodge while momma received her MS from the excellent Chapel Hill Speech and Hearing area, which she later finished as a PhD. in Experimental Psychology at NCSU. We, like you Ram’s Clubbers, have given thousands of dollars to support our athletic teams for over 50 years. We took our lumps from the Board of Governors over athletic misbehavior and moved on to a better place. That better place contained a lot of losing to UNC-CH. This was the case for many other competing institutions. However, for the last 20 years we assumed a level playing field re the rules of the game. Now, as the university administration and most faculty stand mute, it seems relative to winning games, it does PAY TO CHEAT?
As a young man I always looked up to university faculty as people who could be trusted. Academic tenure gave the faculty of the time the ability to stand up and say, “We are the university!” Today, esoteric faculty policies such as administration step-down, merit pay and post-tenure review have changed the playing field somewhat over the last 30 years and may explain some of the reticence for university people to speak out. However, in the face of any policy restraints I cannot understand the silence heard from both faculty and administration re the acceptance of academic fraud at the Chapel Hill campus as the “cost of doing business.” I stand ashamed that more colleagues across all campuses, the faculty assembly, have not stood with Jay and Mary and said, “We are the university and academic fraud is not acceptable.” It must be rooted out and punished! This issue rises above what business school ethics, of good policy/bad policy within the law, justifies. The global effects of trust, example, and yes, honor should carry the day.
W. Douglas Cooper, PhD
May 9, 2016
Dr. Cooper is a professor of Operations Management at UNC-Charlotte. This follow-up article was submitted to the Raleigh News and Observer but was not accepted for publication. I have added the links.
David Martin, PhD (Economics, UNC-Chapel Hill)
May 9, 2016
Having been away from higher education for many years, I was unaware of the weakening of the tenure protection system to which Professor Cooper alludes, but I think that it is hardly a sufficient explanation for the timidity of the faculty at UNC and elsewhere in the face of this enormous scandal. Much of what I wrote almost two decades ago in Part 4 of “America’s Dreyfus Affair, the Case of the Death of Vincent Foster” dealt with the general pusillanimity of the professorial fraternity in the face of other, more serious, outrages. I assumed at the time that tenure was as strong as it had ever been, but that it really made no difference as far as the backbone of the typical professor was concerned. Here is an excerpt:
We live in a sort of democracy
That they say is a meritocracy,
But The Bell Curve go hang,
If you pardon my slang.
I think it’s a sycophantocracy.
Columnist Joseph Sobran put it this way in a December 2, 1997, article on education in The Washington Times entitled, “Up to Speed on Conformity”:
When I was a schoolboy, back in the sunny 1950s, we used to get solemn lectures on the dangers of “conformity.” Many intellectuals thought Americans were becoming intellectually timid. They were right, but for the wrong reasons.
Most intellectuals are themselves conformists. They tend to be liberal in their politics and social views and to exert pressure on others to agree with them. This would be natural and pardonable if the pressure took the form of reasoned argument, but too often it takes the form of ridicule, name calling, snobbery and ostracism.
When the word “extremist” is routinely applied to dissenting views and “out of the mainstream” is used as a dismissal, it’s safe to say that the pressure to conform has become very intense. Why else would these vacuous charges have any force? The recent revolt against “political correctness” is an encouraging sign that many people have had enough.
Education...has become a form of mass production, to be supervised by the state for the good of the state.
...the natural result is a population that sets great store by conformity to the mass. In public controversies, most people are chiefly concerned to play it safe. Before they take any position, they ask themselves not “Is it true?” but “What will happen to me if I say this?”
Even scholars nowadays behave like bureaucrats. And why not? The university, usually state-supported now, has become a form of bureaucracy, where a premium is placed on promotion, security and tenure, while fads and trends, mostly political, exert their own brief tyrannies. Rarely has staying in fashion been so important in intellectual life.
These developments are dangerous for the future of freedom in the country, and Sobran has only partially diagnosed the malady. The tenure system was created for the purpose of buttressing freedom of thought and freedom of expression. The university would be the one place where one could pursue truth without fear or favor. If a professor’s pursuit of truth were to lead him into dangerous waters, he need not, like so many of his fellow citizens, fear for his job because he would be protected by tenure. Unfortunately, if the extreme reticence of the academic community in the face of not just the Foster scandal, but a host of others related to the presidency and the federal government in general, is any indication, the tenure system is not working as intended. The problem, it would appear, is that the habits of mind and behavior developed to achieve tenure are very difficult to break once tenure is achieved. The supreme irony here is that those achieving tenure, then, are precisely those least fit to make proper use of the privileges thus granted.
This article is the fourth in a series that now includes “Silence Broken in UNC Athletic Scandal, “Cheated: The Massive UNC Athletic Scandal Exposed,” and “NCAA Caves on UNC Corruption.” See also “Baylor, You Have a Problem,” a letter sent to each of the members of that university’s history department concerning their president Kenneth Starr, who was new to the job at the time. No one responded. Perhaps they should have paid greater heed. One can find more about the shortcomings of the academic community with respect to the Vince Foster scandal at fbicover-up.com.
May 9, 2016