Two former University of North Carolina Chapel Hill student-athletes filed a lawsuit Thursday against their former school and the NCAA — the organisation that governs college sports — claiming they were deprived of a “meaningful education.”
The lawsuit — first reported by The Washington Post — follows a scathing investigative report released last October, detailing a decades-long academic scandal that predominantly affected UNC student-athletes.
The scandal centres around so-called “paper classes” — which typically never met and only required a final paper — that were offered through the African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. These classes were explicity utilized by members of both UNC academic and athletic departments to help athletes achieve a minimum GPA to maintain their NCAA eligibility, according to former Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein’s report.
The plaintiffs in the new lawsuit are former UNC basketball player Rashanda McCants and former UNC football player Devon Ramsay. Their lawyers are asking the court to certify the case as a class action.
“This case arises out of the NCAA and UNC’s abject failure to safeguard and provide a meaningful education to scholarship athletes who agreed to attend UNC — and take the field — in exchange for academically sound instruction,” McCants and Ramsay’s complaint states.
UNC and the NCAA did not fulfil their promise to scholarship athletes of a quality education and “breached their duties to student-athletes in spectacular fashion,” according to the lawsuit. Rather, the lawsuit states:
UNC offered dozens of sham “paper classes” that were designed not to educate but rather to maintain UNC’s student-athletes’ academic eligibility — i.e., to keep them on the field. And over time these paper classes calcified into a “shadow curriculum” in which no course attendance was required and no faculty were involved.
The former student-athletes’ complaint also details how these classes first started.
Former AFAM department administrator Deborah Crowder began the “paper classes” around 1989, under the supervision of AFAM chair Julius Nyang’oro, according to the lawsuit. When the classes started, Crowder “initiated a series of independent studies courses and invited enrollment from student-athletes” and, even though she was not a member of the UNC faculty, supervised and graded students’ academic work, the lawsuit claims.
During much of the Class Period, Crowder managed these paper classes from beginning to end, but she provided the students with no actual instruction. She registered the selected students for the classes; she assigned them their paper topics; she received their completed papers at the end of the semester; she graded the papers; and she recorded the students’ final class grades on the grade rolls.
When Crowder graded the papers, she typically awarded As or high Bs — even when she did not read the papers. Rather, she would typically read the introduction and conclusion and check to make sure the papers were of appropriate length.
The procedure somewhat changed in the late 1990s, according to the lawsuit, as Crowder began to register the classes as lecture courses, rather than independant studies. However, this did not seem to affect the enrolled students.
“Despite their lecture designation on the course schedule, these classes continued to operate in the same fashion,” according to the lawsuit. “There was no class attendance or student interaction with anyone other than Crowder, and Crowder continued to grade the papers.”
While these fake classes have been well documented at UNC, Hausfeld LLP partner Sathya Gosselin, one of the lawyers representing the former UNC student-athletes, told Business Insider that he frequently hears from athletes concerned about the quality of their education.
“I wish I could tell you that the experiences of a UNC student athletes are not common across many schools, but I hear monthly from student athletes and their families with concerns about the integrity of the education they receive,” Gosselin told Business Insider. “Its high time that the powers that be in college sports be held accountable for the promises they make to student-athletes about their education.”
Plantiff and former UNC basketball player Rashanda McCants released the following statement to Business Insider Friday:
I want to call on all athletes to stand with me and Devon Ramsay. We must stand strong so that we can be seen as more than just mere athletes. We are humans; we have voices; and, although we all love our school, we also love ourselves and the dignity we built within our own right. My intention is for people to know that I did everything that was asked of me, on the court and off the court. But the university and the NCAA failed to keep their promise to me and other college athletes, and in turn we seek justice. With this said, I hope and pray my fellow athletes stand with me and Devon in this effort to hold the powers that be accountable.
In a statement sent to Business Insider, NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said, “We have not yet been notified of the lawsuit filed in a North Carolina court today. Because we have not seen the filing, we have no comment.”
Business Insider has reached out to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill for comment on the lawsuit, and will update with any statement we receive.
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