UNC athletes tell trustees: No one steered our studies

Mar. 27, 2014 @ 05:14 PM

A group of University of North Carolina student-athletes Thursday assured trustees that no one steered them toward a specific course of study.

“Have any of you come into this school and been told what you would study or what courses you would take?” asked Chuck Duckett, a member of the board of trustees who once served as the university’s basketball team manager.
The question – and the presentation by those student-athletes at the behest of Bubba Cunningham, UNC’s athletic director – came just days after HBO and ESPN aired specials about the controversy over academic concerns among the university’s student-athletes.
Specifically, the programs indicated that some student-athletes – basketball and football players among them -- were pointed toward classes in the African and Afro-American studies department that never met and had few assignments.
But the handful of student-athletes appearing at the board’s monthly meeting at the Carolina Inn wouldn’t back up that allegation.
Softball player Lori Springola said that she went to her adviser during freshman year to “get a feel for my strengths and weaknesses.”
“I knew I wasn’t going to do math or sciences, so I picked journalism,” she said.
Marcus Paige, from the men’s basketball team, said there was “definitely no one telling us what we had to do or suggesting a major.” In high school, he said, Paige had a strong interest in English. At UNC, however, his focus shifted to journalism and public relations, which he saw as the “best opportunity to move forward.”
He said that he made it into UNC thanks to his athletic abilities, but he appreciates the academic opportunities found here: “The schedule is so crazy, every day is a grind, but we do it because we love it.”
Gymnast Michelle Ikoma said she actually switched majors a few times, trying to find the right fit.
“No one pushed me to a degree,” she said.
Football player Ryan Switzer told the board that “playing a Division I sport is not for everybody. It takes a lot of time and effort.”
Like Paige, he said he couldn’t make it to UNC on academics alone.
“If you don’t love what you do, which I do, it could be a struggle,” Switzer said. “People that come here and can fight through it and make it are some of the most self-disciplined people you’ll meet in your life.”
Board member Dwight Stone told the student-athletes that “no one understands the time and effort” that they put in to excel in both sports and academics.
“We’ve taken some undeserved shots in the media,” Stone said. “This board and this university is behind you 100 percent.”
Cunningham noted that some of the student-athletes attending Thursday got there on scholarships and some were walk-ons.
“They are outstanding representatives and I could not be more proud of what they do,” he said.
Board member Donald Williams asked the student-athletes for advice on what should change going forward.
Switzer answered that he would like to see more leeway for student-athletes if they change their minds after signing with a college. Currently, they lose one year of eligibility if they decide to transfer from one university to another. But coaches can leave at any time and work anywhere else, right away, Switzer said.
“I want to see a student be able to transfer to a school of his or her choice without losing a year of eligibility,” he said.
Chancellor Carol Folt told the board that the university continues to study issues related to academic preparedness among student-athletes.
“We want to make sure all our student-athletes have a meaningful experience and take advantage of the full spectrum of opportunities,” she said.
She said that when the academics and athletics investigation is completed, the university will share the results with the public.
In other news:
The board heard a presentation from Peter Mucha, chairman of the applied physical sciences department, which is UNC’s first new science department in 40 years.
Mucha projected that the university could spend about $250 million over the next 10 years to hire faculty and staff and renovate or build new facilities to accommodate the department, which he described as filling “an essential gap in the ecosystem of discovery and innovation.”
The efforts of the department, which got its start in 2013, fall between life sciences and engineering.
He noted that it is not meant to compete with engineering programs at other colleges, such as N.C. State.
“It is not a school of engineering, nor is it trying to be,” Mucha said. “Many of us collaborate with engineers and will need to continue to do so, in the Triangle and nationally.”
He’s hoping that the department’s innovative research efforts might bring in funding for defense and energy projects.

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