Black Faculty, Academic Cheating, and Big Time College Sports

By Jamilah King Jun 06, 2014

What responsibility do black faculty members on college campuses have when their schools’ sports teams become embroiled in academic cheating scandals? That’s one of the questions currently at the heart of an investigation into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where star athletes on the school’s men’s basketball and football teams took so-called "paper classes" in the African-American studies department that required little effort, work or attendance.

Rashad McCants, a star of the school’s 2005 championship-winning men’s basketball team, recently gave an interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines to say that even though he seldom went to class, tutors wrote his papers to help keep him academically eligible to play basketball. The segment also included an appearance by Phillip Jackson, executive director of the Chicago-based Black Star Project, who argued that black faculty members on college campuses across America need to take more responsibility for the success — and failures — of black students on their campuses.

"Black faculty at these colleges are quiet," Jackson said about academic cheating scandals. "But it’s even more than that…UCLA has 109 championships in the NCAA, but they’ve only got 96 black male students on campus. And I hear nothing from the black faculties at these schools."

But black faculty members on these college campuses have complicated Jackson’s argument, namely by pointing out that they are but a small and often powerless fraction of a college bureaucracy that is increasingly controlled by billion-dollar sports interests. And, as Deborah L. Stroman argued on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, cheating scandals such as the one currently plaguing the Tar Heels unfairly vilify African-American Studies departments and black students on their campuses.

"There is a racial analysis that is required," Stroman argued, citing the fact that the NCAA’s top revenue generating sports — football and men’s basketball — have rosters filled with black student athletes who earn very little of the money that they bring into their schools. "Responsibility starts with administrators, faculty, staff, coaches and athletes," she said.