UNC group discusses early student-athlete recruitment

Outside investigator will earn $990 an hour
Feb. 25, 2014 @ 09:05 PM

Staff in UNC-Chapel Hill’s athletic and academic departments on Tuesday continued conversations about the student-athlete recruitment process.

The university is building a road map for how to balance enticing new talent and maintaining a competitive edge with adequately preparing students for college-level courses.

The problem is that students are recruited so early nowadays, administrators said in the UNC Student-Athlete Academic Initiatives Working Group meeting. Just this week, an announcement was made that an eighth-grade quarterback committed to play for the LSU Tigers.

UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said the university is examining recruits in early high school and trying to determine how likely they would adhere to UNC’s academic standards once they reached college.

Stephen Farmer, UNC vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, said he would like to see the university eventually communicate academic expectations to every eighth grader in North Carolina. 

“There’s probably room in what we’re doing to develop messages for younger students and prospective student-athletes that they’ll find encouraging, rather than discouraging, that we’ll respect them and their strengths, instead of making it sound like we’re setting ourselves apart from them and are unobtainable or unreachable,” Farmer said.

“Our advocacy, unfortunately, probably starts when they get here,” Cunningham added.

Bringing families into the university culture early on may be tricky, due to NCAA rules that don’t allow contact with parents during the early stages of recruitment.

James Johnson Jr., a UNC professor of strategy and entrepreneurship who is part of the group, said messages of academic support should come from the top, from UNC coaches and administrators, to all aspiring students, not just student-athletes.

“To me, the eighth-grade kids, this is the right time, “Johnson said. “He needs that message. Want to come to Carolina? We’re interested, but, buddy, now is the time to get serious.”

Michelle Brown, director of UNC’s Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA), said program counselors hold weekly meetings with current student-athletes and encourage tutoring sessions.

Students also get help preparing for missed classes when they know they’ll be traveling with their sports teams.

Brown added that she and her staff meet with the full football and men’s basketball coaching staffs to review a weekly academic report involving their student-athletes. UNC also will institute this protocol in women’s basketball.

The ASPSA staff serves about 800 student-athletes. Staffers include four associate directors, a learning specialist, a reading, writing and learning specialist, five academic counselors and a tutor coordinator. They are joined by six part-time learning assistants and 57 part-time tutors, according to the university.

The ASPSA also is starting to review resumes for a new associate director/learning specialist position.

The next working group meeting on March 17 will focus on the decision-making process of the ASPSA.

In other news, the UNC system has released information about the hourly rate to be paid to an outside attorney hired to investigate course irregularities in the former department of African and Afro-American Studies, which included no-show classes to unauthorized grade changes.

The university picked Kenneth L. Wainstein, who has a background in the U.S. Justice Department, and confirmed in a letter that Wainstein would be paid $990 an hour for the investigative work and his staff’s hourly rates ranged from $450 to $775.

The letter was sent to Wainstein from Thomas Shanahan, vice president and general counsel to the UNC system.

After the working group meeting Tuesday morning, UNC Provost James Dean Jr. said he was unable to comment further on the independent investigation.

Brendan Riley, a spokesman for Wainstein, said Wainstein and his law office, Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft, has not worked for UNC-Chapel Hill before.

Wainstein and his staff were involved in a recent investigation into the NCAA - Wainstein was lead investigator in a report published this month that uncovered improprieties by the NCAA’s enforcement staff during an investigation into the University of Miami.