Athletes speak to UNC trustees about academic challenges
Posted March 27, 2014
Chapel Hill, N.C. — The contentious relationship between athletics and academics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was once again in the spotlight Thursday as six student-athletes addressed the Board of Trustees about the challenges they face each day.
Football players Ryan Switzer, Tim Scott and Kemmi Pettway, along with basketball player Marcus Paige, were four of the six athletes who were asked by Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham to speak out on the topic in light of the recent national media coverage of a scandal at UNC.
Switzer, a sophomore on coach Larry Fedora's football team, told the board that student-athletes learn self-discipline because they must balance two busy schedules.
"It can be a struggle, but some of the people that can fight through and make it are some of the most disciplined people you would ever meet," he said. "I've become so self-disciplined, I don't keep a calendar anymore. It's all in my head."
Cunningham said he thinks there may be ways to better organize scheduling to help student-athletes manage their responsibilities.
"I think we should really take a hard look at time and see if there is a better way to organize the day so that students can get a full educational experience," he said.
Cunningham also reiterated his commitment to educating student-athletes.
"There are two things that are very important to me. One is creating a great educational experience for students who play in a collegiate sport, and two is creating the maximum number of opportunities for kids to go to college and participate in a sport," he said.
Board of Trustees member Dwight Stone said the school has taken some "undeserved shots from the media," but he assured the athletes that board members support them.
On Tuesday, ESPN and HBO aired dueling specials focusing on the academic fraud scandal involving the university and its student-athletes.
A 2012 investigation led by former Gov. Jim Martin found problems in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies dating to 1997 and placed blame on former department chairman Julius Nyang'oro and a retired administrator. Nyang'oro was indicted in December on a fraud charge for collecting payments for classes that never met.
The university has since tightened up its policies, but UNC President Tom Ross and Chancellor Carol Folt recently hired a former U.S. Justice Department attorney to comb through the case file the State Bureau of Investigation compiled during a probe that led to Nyang'oro's indictment to determine if other changes are needed.
Board member Charles Duckett asked athletes on Thursday if they had ever been steered toward a particular major or course of study.
"There was definitely no one telling us what to do or even pushing us," Paige said. "When I came on my visit, I really wanted to major in English. When I got here, I changed. No problem. They were very cool with it. They don't try to push you in any way. It's definitely a no."
Switzer agreed but also said that he decided not to major in nursing because of the time commitments he has with the football team.
"I learned quickly I wasn't going to be able to, that time just wouldn't allow me, and that's OK because I love what I do with football," he said. "Some things have got to give."
Paige said he doesn't spend a lot of time in study hall, but mentioned that the academic support staff helps students manage school and sport.
"They make sure you have the help you need and resources available," he said. "It would have been very tough to get (accepted to the university) without being a basketball player, and it's allowed me to experience the academics as well. Coach (Williams) cares about us off the court and wants us to be better men as well."
Folt said Thursday that there are six areas in which the university plans to better serve student-athletes – improving academic preparedness, quality of education provided, health and wellness, looking at how student-athletes spend their time, resources available to student-athletes and increased representation in governance.