Just when UNC-Chapel Hill thought they may be putting their massive academic fraud saga – with all it’s numerous scandals, twists and turns – behind them, The News & Observer’s Dan Kane, the perpetual thorn in the Tar Heels’ side, strikes again.
The release of hundreds of thousands of pages of university records that were previously only shared with former prosecutor Ken Wainstein for his probe into the fake classes has given the public even more insight into the broad scope of the massive scandal, and left investigators, like Kane, with even more unanswered questions.
At the heart of Kane’s latest investigation into the academic fraud scandal, which he wrote about in a piece posted to the paper’s website Thursday, is the fact that potentially incriminating emails between the supposed sole architect of the fraudulent classes, Deborah Crowder, and UNC-CH basketball’s academic aide, Eric Hoots, have been discovered.
In 2007, when Eric Hoots was a video coordinator for UNC-Chapel Hill’s men’s basketball team, he sent an email to Deborah Crowder, the architect of the bogus “paper” classes that existed for nearly two decades.
In that message, he forwarded “AFAM Papers” to Crowder, who was the office manager for the African and Afro-American Studies department. “Thanks for the help,” he wrote. “I will see you soon…”
Today, Hoots tracks players’ academic progress as the assistant to the athletic director and director of player development for coach Roy Williams; his duties include serving as the program’s in-office academic coordinator. It’s unclear if he knew what Crowder was up to back then. He and UNC officials have declined to say whether the papers he forwarded to Crowder were for classes later found to be bogus.
Critics of how the university has handled the scandal say UNC and Hoots should be more forthcoming.
A second email involving Hoots has the same subject. It lists two attachments, described as “summerpaper1.doc; summerpaper2.doc.” UNC redacted the sender’s name and the date of the email, which suggests the sender is a student.
“Hey Eric,” the sender wrote. “You dont (sic) realize how much I owe you for this. I’m gonna be the one that pays for lunch from here on out or something. And I just put those papers as an attachment.”
So, apparently, what we appear to have here is a UNC-CH basketball staffer serving as an intermediary between the architect of the fake classes and a Tar Heel basketball player, potentially garnering the player some sort of special treatment, possibly helping adjust a grade. After all, the emails were sent at the end of July when the second session of summer school was coming to a close.
What’s even more interesting about these revelations is Eric Hoots’ history with the fraudulent African studies department, and the subsequent efforts to conceal that connection.
More from the N&O’s Dan Kane: (Bold added for emphasis)
Hoots, 35, is a 2004 UNC graduate from Newton who worked as a student manager for the basketball team for three years. He joined Williams’ staff as a video assistant after graduating and became the video coordinator for several years. He had an additional link to the African studies program: It was one of his undergraduate majors.
While he was a video coordinator, Hoots’ UNC biography reported his bachelor’s degrees in African studies and communications. That changed in 2013, when Williams added the academic coordinator role to Hoots’ responsibilities. The African studies degree disappeared from his bio in subsequent team media guides, which list his degree in communications.
UNC spokesman Rick White said in an email that Hoots dropped mention of the African studies degree out of “personal preference.” By then, it was clear the bogus classes stretched back into the 1990s.
Wait, did that say what we think it said? IT DID.
It was only when Roy Williams promoted Hoots’ to the role of “academic coordinator,” and the academic fraud scandal’s prolific nature became public that, supposedly, Hoots made the decision to conceal all of his ties to the African studies department.
Apparently, it was Hoots’ “personal preference” that no one know UNC-CH’s newest “academic coordinator” had major ties to the fraudulent department and more than likely earned his degree because of that fraudulent degree program.
More likely, though, Roy Williams knew full well of Hoots’ connections to the academic fraud scandal, promoted him anyway, and then worked with Hoots to pull a Hillary Clinton and wipe out all of the evidence. (Editor’s note: Roy is well known to be a major progressive, as was made even more evident by his appearance in videos promoting Obamacare.)
The likelihood of this scenario is backed up by the fact that, despite Hoots majoring in African studies, neither he nor the university will answer any questions about it.
As Kane reports:
It is not clear whether Hoots took any of the bogus classes as a student, or if he played a role as a staffer in helping students take them. Hoots and UNC officials have declined to answer questions about his connections to the African studies department, or to release relevant records such as the papers that had been attached to the emails.
White has cited the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as FERPA, that keeps many educational records secret.
The federal law would shield the classes that Hoots took, though he could make them public. But it would not prevent the release of information identifying the classes connected to the emails, or for UNC to say whether the attached papers were tied to bogus classes.
“They could certainly describe the nature of those email attachments without coming anywhere near a FERPA violation,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit that provides legal advice to college and high school journalists.
Hoots wouldn’t have been the only “normal” UNC-CH student to reap great benefits from the fraudulent program either. As is well known, and the N&O confirms, athletes only “made up half of the 3,100 students who enrolled in the classes, a far larger proportion than their share of the student body.”
So why won’t UNC-CH just come out and explain Hoots’ connection to the fraudulent program?
Well, as Kane explains, that strategy has exposed UNC-CH before, and they’re hellbent on ensuring that never happens again, especially when it could put Roy Williams and their beloved men’s basketball program in the crosshairs.
Many such emails were made public – with students’ identifying information redacted – in Wainstein’s report on the class scheme. That investigation, completed and released more than two years ago, prompted an NCAA probe that has produced allegations of serious violations involving failure to monitor the academic problems and lack of institutional control. UNC is fighting those allegations.
“It would obviously be a problem if the UNC basketball program’s academic coordinator was involved in the paper classes scheme,” said John Shelton Reed, a retired sociology professor at UNC best known for his research into Southern culture. “I’m surprised that the athletic department isn’t downright eager to answer questions and clear things up.”
The N&O requested that UNC system President Margaret Spellings become involved in making the information public. She declined, a spokeswoman said.
UNC-CH has gone to such great lengths to shield Williams and Tar Heel basketball that Hoots wasn’t even interviewed by “independent investigator” Ken Wainstein or anyone else who has investigated the scandal.
Hoots was not interviewed in his role as a staff member by Wainstein or the other lawyers on his team who investigated the bogus classes. His name does not surface in the report, or in any of the hundreds of documents included as exhibits. He also has not surfaced in records made public in the NCAA’s investigation into the classes.
Joseph Jay, the lead attorney on Wainstein’s team, said UNC officials wouldn’t let the firm comment about Hoots.
UNC-CH won’t let an “independent investigator” even comment about Hoots’?
What other “independent investigation” allows the institution it is investigating to dictate to them where they can and cannot poke around, or even comment? What else could the powers that be in Chapel Hill be covering up?
A goheels.com profile from 2014 shows Hoots wearing many hats. That job includes his video coordinator duties as well as helping with recruiting and keeping up with former players. He also manages the team’s budget and equipment needs. Hoots is paid $100,000 a year, UNC officials said.
UNC’s Faculty Athletics Committee has an oversight role on academics and athletics. Chairwoman Layna Mosley, a political science professor, said in an email that she doubted she would have anything more to say beyond the information UNC officials have provided. Andrew Perrin, a committee member and sociology professor, said in an interview he didn’t see the need to inquire about the emails involving Hoots and AFAM papers.
“It’s not particularly interesting or important to me, so, no,” Perrin said. He noted the numerous reforms that have been put in place to track classes, and said what is important is making sure the “paper” class scheme isn’t happening now or in the future.
If something with as many unanswered questions and suspicion swirling around it as the Hoots situation doesn’t peek the interests of the UNC-CH faculty charged with providing oversight of the athletic department, nothing ever will.
And UNC-CH will continue to operate under a massive cloud of scandal, which is apparently just the way they like it in Chapel Hill.
Especially if it protects Roy Williams and their men’s basketball program.