Thursday, August 26, 2010

UNC honor code clear on penalties for plagiarism

The University of North Carolina’s honor code is quite clear on penalties for academic plagiarism, which could have direct implications on how the investigation into Butch Davis’ program plays out.

UNC leaders confirmed Thursday night, in a press conference that was stunning for people who have followed the program, that they are looking into “academic improprieties” with the football team. Coach Butch Davis confirmed that a former tutor who had worked with his high-school aged son is the woman involved.

Athletics director Dick Baddour wouldn’t say how many players are involved or give a timetable on when the school will make a decision on their eligibility. Baddour said the school is still early in the process of gathering information.

But here’s where this gets tricky. Say the tutor wrote a paper and the player turned it in for a grade. Under Carolina’s Honor Code, the penalties could include “participation on or in … athletic teams (including intramural teams) as a member, coach or manager.”

Also, there’s the question of whether a player is now eligible. That’s where the Honor Code, called “The Instrument” in academic parlance, has real teeth. Here’s the critical part:

2. Academic Dishonesty.

a. For an initial instance of academic dishonesty,
...i. The usual sanction for grade-related misconduct shall be a failing grade in the course, an aspect or component of the course, or on the assignment as recommended by the instructor, and suspension for one full academic semester or until specified conditions are met
...ii. The minimum sanction for grade-related misconduct shall be a failing grade in the course, component or aspect of the course, or on the assignment as recommended by the instructor; probation for at least one full academic semester; an additional educational assignment or other requirements as appropriate; and a written warning that further academic misconduct will lead to more serious sanctions.

b. For a second or subsequent instance of academic dishonesty, the minimum sanction shall be suspension for at least two full academic semesters.

In other words, say UNC discovers Linebacker Larry turned in a false paper in the spring of 2010. That could mean he now gets a failing grade in that class, and might not be eligible for competition this fall. So Carolina is not only trying to figure who did (and didn’t) cavort with agents, it also has to sort through an academic mess to double-check eligibility.

Baddour, who began his career in compliance at UNC, insisted Carolina has excellent training for its tutors, and they are given explicit instructions on what they can and can not do for athletes. He said that at the end of each year, tutors are asked “point blank” if they ran into any problems. Athletes, too, are told what is allowed under university rules.

But anyone who graduated from elementary schools knows the basics – if you turn it in at school, it has to be your work.

The academic scandal has two significant implications.

First, Carolina began practicing on Monday with the team it thinks it will field against LSU.

So that’s why, as InsideCarolina.com reported, some starters were on the scout team.

Second, it’s possible the grade allegations could knock multiple players off the team for the season.

Davis said all the right things Thursday night, and Baddour spoke out strongly in favor of his coach.

“I believe in the leadership of this football program,” Baddour said. “When we hired Butch Davis, we believed he was the right fit for the University of North Carolina. And I continue to believe that. He has my support.”

Still, there’s no disputing Thursday was a stunning, and bleak, day for the UNC football program.

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