The Seemers and the Schemers: The Wainstein Report and UNC’s Repeat Performance

Things are not always as they seem.

The Wainstein report is out and the officials at UNC once again performed their oft- repeated dramatic rendition of their tale of woe. Poor UNC has been a victim of some “bad individuals” sullying the “proud history” of the oldest public university in the country. Hands are wringing, souls are being searched for, and heads must roll so that UNC can once again proudly boast of its academic excellence and resume its place on its historic moral high ground.

I happened to be back in Chapel Hill for some events for my new book on big-time sports during the latest reenactment of this sordid tale.

So I had a front row seat for “The Seemers and The Schemers” and it was déjà vu all over again, right down to the News & Observer’s bizarre fixation on blaming Coach Butch Davis for the whole thing.

The Seemers gave the performance of a lifetime. The Seemers are the ones who SEEM to have virtue and the integrity of the institution as their top priority, and they are the ones who SEEM to be committed to the truth and to full disclosure.

These Seemers told us of their moral indignation and their shock and dismay toward the terrible Schemers. “This is not the Carolina the rest of us know,” they said.

But things are not as they seem. And the Wainstein report is not the vessel of truth and transparency that it boasts it is either.

I sat in the room with my husband, John Shoop (the Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach at UNC from 2007-2011), when he was interviewed by Jay Joseph, one of the attorneys on the Wainstein team a few months ago. The testimony that is printed in the report attributed to John is only a fraction of what he actually said. And some very important things were redacted from his account. The Seemers, it seems, are up to something.

The Wainstein team chose to redact out John’s answer to their questions concerning the alleged meeting between academic advisors and coaches with the power point slide about the paper classes that the media has pounced on with such glee. When asked about this meeting, John said he had never been in a meeting in which those things were said about these “paper classes.” He would remember something so startling (and even ridiculous) as to be told about classes that where a farce. John spent a lot of his time as a coach at UNC making sure the players were working hard in their classes, going to class, being respectful to professors, and getting their work done with their best effort. That was a point of emphasis for John and for Coach Davis–both said they do not remember any meeting like the one the report describes.

It also is curious that they didn’t include the comments John gave them when they asked if he had anything else to add. In those comments he told them about how frustrated Coach Davis was with Cynthia Reynolds. John told them he was in a meeting once in which Coach David questioned Reynolds about why players were getting steered to Swahili classes when some of them had several years of high school Spanish under their belts.

It is strange, too, that the Wainstein team only interviewed two coaches from the Davis staff.

If the truth was their goal, the Seemers definitely took a wrong turn in the choices they made here. But that’s what Seemers do, they seem to want the truth, but instead they have a plan.

And this is where the Seemers really show us what they are made of—they will go to whatever lengths they need to in order to deflect the attention away from the culpability of the University itself. There are always more people who the University can line up to take the bullet. It’s been a steady stream of firing line victims for several years now–and it started with their nefarious treatment of the football players during the NCAA investigation.

This time the Seemers, the powers that be, tell the Carolina community that they finally have answers because they know all about the “paper classes scheme” that’s been going on for two decades in Carolina in which some 3000 students (about 48% of which were student-athletes) took fake classes—or classes in which they had no contact with a professor and turned in a paper in the end that really didn’t have to be legitimate. Seemers tell us that some of the Schemers steered athletes toward these classes to help retain their eligibility.

Two decades! And 3000 students! And yet, we are led to believe that some ritual firings is all UNC needs to restore its integrity. And for affect, the News & Observer demonizes a football staff who was there at the tail end of these classes’ existence. That story line resonates with people and their caricatures about football players and coaches. And it helps keep the basketball team outside these harsh lines of scrutiny.

And the Carolina community can breathe a collective sigh of relief that all of “them” are gone. And the community conversation about how to have more strict academic standards can continue—after all, keeping “them” out needs to be a top priority so this never happens again.

And UNC is hoping the public (and the NCAA) will see how diligently they have been purging their fine institution of the trouble-makers. And UNC’s integrity, they tell us, is being restored.

But, things are not as they seem.

UNC’s integrity is not being restored; instead it is in hospice care.

And the contagion is not the “shadow curriculum” but the color-blind leadership who refuse to redirect their critical examination onto the University itself. The NCAA and UNC sanctioned system of eligibility and enforcement for revenue producing athletes gave birth to these paper classes. And for two decades this is one of the ways the University of North Carolina kept the money train moving.

Why isn’t anybody asking why there needed to be this “shadow system” for a school like UNC to keep some of its athletes eligible? There is nothing in the list of seven responses from Chancellor Folt that suggests they will be asking this question in earnest. Instead the foci are accountability of individuals, compliance with the NCAA, and increased systems of review.

Why isn’t anybody asking why the flagship state university of the state of North Carolina didn’t meet the needs of ALL of its students more effectively in the first place?

The Wainstein report doesn’t tell us about a few bad individuals, it tells us about a system that was satisfied to treat some of its athletes as throw away students. And it is a system that was comfortable with the department focused on black and African cultures being known as “easy” and “not very rigorous.”

Would such classes have been allowed to exist by Holden Thorp in his chemistry department? They wouldn’t have—he held it in too high regard. And if it had that lack of rigor as its reputation, surely he wouldn’t have thanked the chair of that department for doing the hard work of working with all those “difficult” athletes as the report suggests he did with Dr. Julius Nyang’oro.

The habits of whiteness camouflage such a double standard with a demeaning kind of gentile paternalism. It made sense in the whispers of those hallowed halls to white academic elites that the AFAM department wasn’t seen as academically rigorous. And it fit the caricatures in the hushed assumptions of the powers that be that many of those black athletes weren’t able to take “real” classes anyway.

The UNC faithful may hate the hear this, but when the NCAA investigation of the football program was in full tilt in 2010-2011, members of the football coaching staff were told (and they were told the directive came from Chancellor Thorp) that they were not to recruit “inner city black kids” any more. This was just one piece of the plan to “change the image of the football program.”

In an exchange I had with a high up member of the athletic staff, he told me the problem was unprepared black athletes and the resulting “culture gap.” He explained that the “average middle aged fan” cannot relate to all the athletes who “flash gang signs” out on the field.   When I told him that I did not know any players who were in a gang, he said that I should certainly recognize that the “celebration gestures” of many of the players “have gang origins.”

Mr. Wainstein assures us that he “looked under every rock.” However, he and his team missed a big huge rock—the bulwark of white privilege that built that university.

And this rock was an important one to acknowledge because this whole paper class scheme is a product of that culture.

And the University continues its predictable response: more firings and more distancing of itself from the “schemers.”

I have said it before, and I will say it again, racism and privilege are at the very core of this debacle. While the dynamics of racism and privilege may SEEM in the eyes of the powerful to have no purchase in this situation, the habits of the white mind and the clutches of power that whiteness and its privileges have enabled these practices to go on for so long.

The University of North Carolina does have an integrity problem and it’s called the NCAA. That system creates and exacerbates racialized disadvantage for athletes, many of whom are people of color.

Instead of officially developing better ways to meet the needs of all the athletes they coveted for their championships, UNC unofficially catered to the NCAA’s demands for two decades by allowing some of those same athletes to leave the University with a substandard experience instead of a life-giving education, and they’ve thrown players and coaches under the bus whenever needed along the way.

UNC and its faithful can try to blame it all on a few bad individuals or the big, bad world of football, but the sooner UNC and other universities around this country face their complicity in the unjust realities of big-time sports on college campuses, the sooner we can actually begin to seek true reform.

You see in this dramatic tale, the Seemers are the Schemers. And that’s not going to change at UNC for a very long time to come. It’s more tragedy than a comedy of errors. Far from a story of searched-for souls being found, it is the tale of soul-selling that has an all too familiar sound—silence in the face of injustice with big payoffs for the people on top.

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