Academic Foul: Some Colleges Accused Of Helping Athletes Cheat

Jun 13, 2015
Originally published on June 13, 2015 5:21 pm

Some college athletes are cheating, and the NCAA is cracking down on universities that enable them to do it. Earlier this year, the NCAA came down hard on Syracuse University for academic fraud. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is awaiting its punishment for guiding athletes to enroll in sham classes, among other infractions.

Will the University of Texas at Austin be next?

A new investigation by Brad Wolverton of The Chronicle of Higher Education describes alleged cases of academic misconduct by former members of the Texas Longhorns men's basketball team, including cheating by a player who "allegedly took some pictures of some test questions during a final exam for a remedial math class with his phone and sent them to someone outside his math class looking for answers," Wolverton tells NPR's Arun Rath.

Wolverton also spoke with a former academic mentor in the Texas athletics department who helped another Texas player finish a paper "that wasn't really entirely his own."

Such episodes are significant, Wolverton says, because "the standards that the schools set matter, and they're supposed to have academic integrity." Meanwhile, the NCAA tells him it's investigating 20 schools for allegations of academic misconduct.


Interview Highlights

How the University of Texas has responded to cheating allegations

Texas has responded in a couple of ways. I did a piece late last year called "Confessions of a Fixer" which was about a former basketball coach who had obtained online test answers ... and was selling them to athletes across the country. And a couple of the players in that story were from Texas. In that instance, the university has investigated it. They've had some outside investigators look into it. They've also started looking into some of these current allegations and they so far have no concerns with how the matters were handled. And they've also contacted the NCAA to let them know that they're looking into these problems.

On how widespread cheating may be

After that story came out, I talked to the head of enforcement at the NCAA, who told me the enforcement group there was investigating 20 schools for allegations of academic misconduct. On the heels of what happened at the University of North Carolina, in particular, where there were widespread allegations of thousands of students cheating, I think that there's particular scrutiny to this now and schools have got their antennas up about this problem.

The NCAA has issued a notice of infractions [to UNC], which tells the university what they've found on them — which shows repeated violations of university employees either doing work for players or allegedly helping them out. It's unclear as to how the university will be punished but it looks like when they're alleged to have had a lack of institutional control, that's one of worst violations that they can have in the NCAA's vernacular.

On why cheating like this matters

The standards that the schools set matter, and they're supposed to have academic integrity. And so it really devalues the degree to have students who can get away with things that they're not supposed to get away with. It makes — the case of UNC in particular, it makes your degree look less valuable if you've got classes that are fake classes. And in the case of Texas, if you have the allegation that the athletic department is meddling in academic matters, it's a problem because athletes aren't supposed to get special treatment.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARUN RATH, HOST:

College athletes are cheating, and the NCAA says their universities are helping them do it. Earlier this year, the NCAA came down hard on Syracuse University for academic fraud. The University of North Carolina is awaiting its punishment for, among other things, guiding athletes to enroll in sham classes. And the University of Texas may be next.

A new investigation by Brad Wolverton of The Chronicle of Higher Education alleges three cases of academic misconduct by members of the Longhorn's men's basketball team, including blatant cheating by a player named Martez Walker.

BRAD WOLVERTON: He allegedly took some pictures of some test questions during a final exam for a remedial math class with his phone and sent them to someone outside the class looking for answers. The instructor in the class reportedly looked into the athletic department for guidance on how she should handle the matter, which was - if we think about NCAA violations - if the athletic department has any role in enabling an athlete's cheating, then it can rise to an NCAA violation.

By the way, the university denies that that's how it happened. But what happened was the player ends passing the class - not only passing it, but gets on the honor roll for having at least a 3.0 grade-point average and then the next semester goes on to become a pretty key contributor to the basketball team.

RATH: And beyond things like the cheating on tests, there are allegations involving, you know, other people doing work for these students - that kind of thing.

WOLVERTON: Exactly. Now, I talked to a former academic mentor who worked in the academic support program for athletics, and he told me that a guy name J'Covan Brown, who played in the 2009 era - he helped J'Covan Brown do some work on papers - that Mr. Brown had some difficulties and turned to him for help. And under some pressure to finish the assignments, you know, he offered words and ideas that helped the player complete a paper that wasn't really entirely his own.

RATH: And tell us how - what the University of Texas has had to say about these allegations.

WOLVERTON: Well, Texas has responded in a couple of ways. I did a piece late last year called "Confessions Of A Fixer" which was about a former college basketball coach who had obtained online test answers to all these online classes and was selling them to athletes across the country. And a couple of the players mentioned in that story were from Texas. In that instance, the university has investigated it. They've had some outside investigators look into it. And then they've also started looking into some of these current allegations, and they so far have no concerns with how the matters were handled. And they've also contacted the NCAA to let them know that they're looking into these problems.

RATH: Now, your previous reporting didn't just touch on the University of Texas. How widespread is this kind of thing among other universities?

WOLVERTON: Well, after that story came out, I talked to the head of enforcement at the NCAA who told me that the enforcement group there was investigating 20 schools for allegations of academic misconduct. And so I think in - on the heels of what happened at the University of North Carolina, in particular where there were widespread allegations of thousands of students cheating, I think that there's particular scrutiny to this now, and schools have got their antennas up about this problem.

RATH: What's the status of the University of North Carolina investigation now?

WOLVERTON: The NCAA has issued a notice of infractions which tells the university what they found on them which shows repeated violations of university employees either doing work for players or allegedly helping them out. It's unclear as to how the university will be punished, but it looks like, you know, when they're alleged to have had a lack of institutional control, that's one of the worst violations that they can have in the NCAA's vernacular.

RATH: In the big picture, you know, beyond how these students fare in school, why does this matter?

WOLVERTON: Well, the standards that the schools set matter. And they're supposed to have academic integrity, and so it really devalues the degree to have students who can get away with things that they're not supposed to get away with. It makes, you know, in the case of - at UNC in particular, if - it makes your degree look less valuable if you've got classes that are fake classes. And in the case of Texas, if you have the allegation that the athletic department is meddling in academic matters, then it's a problem because athletes aren't supposed to get special treatment.

RATH: That's Brad Wolverton of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Brad, thanks very much.

WOLVERTON: Thanks, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.