(CN) - Former University of North Carolina football player Michael McAdoo filed a federal class action alleging the university failed to provide him and others with the education they were promised in return for playing for the school.
McAdoo -- not to be confused with James Michael McAdoo, the former UNC basketball player -- and other students took so-called "paper classes" in the African and Afro-American Studies Department (AFAM) at UNC's Chapel Hill campus.
These courses were classified as "independent studies classes," but the students never met with a teacher and never had to do any coursework except for one research paper that was graded by a secretary, Deborah Crowder, the lawsuit says.
Crowder, who created the irregular classes for both students and student-athletes, is alleged to have given players high grades for low-quality work.
According to a recent report by Kenneth Wainstein, whose law firm was which was hired by the UNC chancellor to conduct an investigation into the misconduct, the academic scheme, which lasted between 1993 and 2011, was designed to help struggling students stay in school and keep scholarships.
"UNC entered into scholarship agreements with football student-athletes under which the football student-athletes agreed to become students at, and play football for, UNC," McAdoo's lawsuit says.
"UNC coaches and other representatives enticed these football student-athletes to sign the agreements with promises of a legitimate UNC education, which is widely regarded as one of the best public university educations available in the United States. UNC, however, did not provide the promised legitimate education," the suit continues.
Instead, the student-athletes were funneled into a "shadow curriculum" in the AFAM Department by football coaches and academic counselors who indicated that their football responsibilities were so time-intensive that 'shadow curriculum' courses were a must." As a result, the students didn't receive the education "they were promised or deserved," the complaint states.
All papers were given high grades, even those with plagiarized material.
According to the Wainstein report, published by the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, McAdoo submitted a plagiarized paper for a Swahili 3 course in the summer of 2009.
According the McAdoo's lawsuit, "If football student-athletes wanted to be considered dedicated team members and have the opportunity to pursue their athletic ambitions, they had essentially no choice but to accept the 'shadow curriculum' courses in which they were enrolled."
Wainstein found that nearly 3,100 students took the irregular paper classes, and nearly 50 percent were student-athletes, the majority of those being football players. When Crowder retired in 2009, the football program had to adjust to the "reality of having to meet academic requirements with real academic work," the report says. When she left, the football program saw a decrease in grades.
To deal with the loss of Crowder's classes, football counselors approached the AFAM Department Chair, Julius Nyang'oro, who knew about and approved of the paper classes and the inflated grades for struggling students, the report says. The counselors asked him to continue the classes, which he did.
As Crowder had done before him, Nyang'oro "graded the papers, but did so with an eye to boosting student GPAs, regardless of paper quality."
McAdoo was one of those students. He had been recruited by UNC football Coach Butch Davis, who had stressed to him the program's commitment to the education of UNC's student-athletes.
The complaint says that during one visit to McAdoo's home, Davis told McAdoo's grandparents, "I can't guarantee that Michael will play in the NFL, but one thing I can guarantee is that he will get a good education at the University of North Carolina."
"The UNC football coaches' assurances as to the UNC football team's commitment to education were decisive to Mr. McAdoo's decision to accept UNC's scholarship offer," the lawsuit says.
Soon after McAdoo arrived at Chapel Hill, he realized that the coach's promises of a good education were false, the lawsuit says.
"Although Mr. McAdoo had expressed interest in criminal justice when being recruited, once on campus he was told that football student-athletes were urged to consider only three options for a major: Exercise Sport Science, Communications, or African-American Studies," the complaint states.
When McAdoo asked why, he was told that only these majors would accommodate his football practice and playing schedule, "and that the football program has 'relationships' with professors in those departments."
The complaint says McAdoo questioned his taking the courses and said he wanted to engage in more meaningful studies, but representatives of the football program said he had to take the paper classes so that he could focus on football. "Taking the courses was part and parcel of being on the team, and not doing so signaled lack of commitment."
"This emphasis on eligibility at the expense of education, and the systematic funneling of football student-athletes into 'shadow curriculum' courses designed not to educate ran directly counter to Coach Davis' promise that Mr. McAdoo would 'get a good education at the University of North Carolina,'" the complaint states.
Wainstein's report said Davis knew about the paper classes but that he didn't know they were "so bereft of academic rigor" or that the papers were graded by a secretary with little or no regard to quality.
McAdoo says in his lawsuit that he and others in his situation were promised a quality education, which he never received.
"In offering a football scholarship to Plaintiff and each Class member, UNC promised to provide Plaintiff and each Class member with a legitimate UNC education, and not a fictional one funneled through a 'shadow curriculum,'" the lawsuit says. "By failing to provide the promised legitimate education, UNC breached its contract with Plaintiff and each member of the Class."
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