Did UNC remove key info from report?

The fun at North Carolina never stops. This offseason, that would be true even if the long-standing academics scandal in the school's African and Afro-American Studies Department wasn't drawing local scrutiny; the saga of P.J. Hairston has seen to that. But, no doubt much to UNC brass' chagrin, the AFAM scandal -- which prompted an investigation and report by former North Carolina governor Jim Martin in December -- is still lingering.

In December, Martin attempted to close the book, calling the grade issues and aberrant AFAM classes in which many North Carolina student-athletes were enrolled alongside normal students "... not an athletic scandal" but "an academic one, which is worse." The question now is whether that stance, which was originally stated in a three-person UNC faculty report commissioned by the executive committee of the faculty council last July,* was intentional, and whether a last-minute edit to the faculty report was made in the service of the truth or to avoid NCAA scrutiny.

From the Raleigh News & Observer's Dan Kane:

The correspondence shows that hours before the report’s release on July 26, 2012, Faculty Council Chairman Jan Boxill sent the three faculty authors a last-minute email. It suggested they rewrite a sentence that painted a picture of a department manager creating bogus classes to protect athletes’ eligibility to play sports.

The authors grudgingly agreed to it, and some key information disappeared from the final version.

Boxill wrote that the request came from other faculty on the council’s executive committee. “The worry is that this could further raise NCAA issues and that is not the intention,” she said in the email.

Boxill replied to the N&O by saying the edit was made to avoid "implications and innuendos we were not in a position to know." What was that edit, exactly?

They said: “Although we may never know for certain, it was our impression from multiple interviews that the involvement of Deborah Crowder seems to have been that of an athletics supporter who was extremely close to personnel in Athletics, and who managed to use the system to help players by directing them to enroll in courses in the African and Afro-American Studies department that turned out to be aberrant or irregularly taught.”

The final version reads: “Although we may never know for certain, it was our impression from multiple interviews that a department staff member managed to use the system to help players by directing them to enroll in courses in the African and Afro-American Studies Department that turned out to be aberrant or irregularly taught.”

Boxill said in an email to the N&O that some faculty executive committee members objected to describing Crowder as “extremely close” to athletic personnel. Boxill called it “vague without definite boundaries.”

For Kane, this is evidence that Boxill "watered down" the final investigation report. For many -- including fans determined (and maybe rightfully so, at this point) that North Carolina swept its athletic academics scandal under the rug -- it is proof of a university, even a state, determined to keep the all-important Tar Heels out of the NCAA limelight at all costs.

It certainly doesn't look good. Suspicious, even. The best practices for a report like this should involve some level of independence; it should never involve last-minute changes after weeks of work. But is suspicion and poor handling enough to leap all the way to the conclusion that North Carolina's academics scandal deserves special NCAA attention? The NCAA typically ignores academic scandals, even those that involve athletes, provided no special attention or benefits are given to athletes because they are athletes. Does the original wording of the report's paragraph on Crowder change that? Is whether the "department staff member" is named or not, or listed as a fan of UNC athletics or not, make what the NCAA saw in the original report so significantly different as to reconsider a visit to Chapel Hill? I don't know that it does. And if it doesn't, does it matter how suspicious the whole thing looks? If there is no proof that UNC's AFAM department openly played a part in creating or managing classes with the expressed purpose of keeping athletes eligible, then what are the chances the NCAA -- months after reading the original report -- decides to get involved now?

There are few answers here. Mostly we're dealing with questions. Whatever the outcome, the fact that these questions are still being pointedly poised on a scandal-riddled Chapel Hill campus is bad enough. Who knows what comes next?

(Correction: My initial version of this post conflated former Gov. Martin's outside investigation with the original faculty report. The faculty report, not Martin's, was the subject of the edit reported by the News & Observer this weekend. My apologies for the error. -- EB)