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Class Claims UNC Failed Student-Athletes

(CN) - Two former student-athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill claim in a class action that the university failed to provide them with a quality education and, instead, funneled them into sham classes that gave high grades for little or no work.

Plaintiff Leah Metcalf was a basketball student for UNC from 2001 to 2005. In a lawsuit filed in Mecklenburg County, N.C., Metcalf says she was a honors and AP student while in high school in Charlotte, NC, and aspired to be a physician.

She says that when the UNC Women's basketball head coach, Sylvia Hatchell, recruited her in 2000, the coach promised that Metcalf "would be well cared for as a part of the Tar Hell family if she accepted UNC's scholarship offer."

Hatchell emphasized the university's academic prestige and promised Metcalf a quality education, the complaint says.

Metcalf agreed to attend UNC, and she planned to major in mathematics. However, the complaint says, the UNC women's basketball academic counselor, Jan Boxill, told her that her studies shouldn't conflict with her basketball responsibilities, so she should take easier classes.

Metcalf says Boxill counseled her to take classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies (AAAS), which were part of a shadow curriculum that offered no real education but were designed to keep athletes eligible.

"For the last eighteen years, from 1993 through at least 2011, UNC, widely regarded as one of the nation's elite public institutions of higher education, systematically and purposely failed to educate many of its students, and particularly its student-athletes, by enrolling them in hundreds of sham courses-sometimes in the guise of lecture courses and sometimes in the guise of independent study courses-that involved no professional involvement, offered little rigor and no real education," the complaint says.

After graduating, Metcalf worked in a clerical position in Charlotte and as a camp counselor before deciding to play basketball in Europe. She says she has abandoned her plans to be a physician and doesn't know what she will do when she stops playing.

Plaintiff James Arnold was a strong student and high school all-state football player in Mocksville, NC, and was widely recruited by several colleges until he finally decided to attend UNC from 2005 to 2009. He aspired to be a computer programmer and wanted to major in computer science at UNC, he says.

When UNC Defensive Coordinator Marvin Sanders visited Arnold's home to recruit him, he allegedly said that "UNC is a great place to get an education" and that "it is one of the nation's top-ranked schools."

He impressed upon Arnold that he could trust the football staff and that he was part of the Tar Heel family, the complaint says.

At the beginning of his freshman year, Arnold was given a pre-assigned course schedule that featured alleged shadow curriculum courses in the AAAS department. Sanders says he told his counselor that he wasn't interested in the courses, but she explained "that as a football player it was important that he take the courses," the lawsuit says. Because he trusted UNC, Arnold accepted her counsel.

Arnold's counselor allegedly also told him that he would not be able to major in computer science because the labs required as part of the computer science classes would conflict with football obligations.

"It would be better for you if we put you in African American studies," his counselor is alleged to have said. Arnold took the assigned classes and majored in AAAS.

Arnold said that since graduating he has been unable to get a job requiring a college degree. He worked at a steel warehouse, briefly played Arena Football, and then worked at a Rent-A-Center location. He now works in Durham, NC, as a manager, which does not require a degree.

"UNC has engaged in fraud in the inducement, constructive fraud, and fraudulent concealment and has breached its fiduciary duty to plaintiffs and Class members by creating a relationship to recruit Plaintiffs and Class members by falsely representing that they would receive a legitimate UNC education if they enrolled as student-athletes at UNC," the lawsuit says.

UNC's alleged failure to provide plaintiffs' a quality education runs counter to its own mission statement, which says, "Our mission is to serve as a center for research, scholarship, and creativity and to teach a diverse community of undergraduate, graduated, and professional students to become the next generation of leaders. Through the efforts of our exceptional faculty and staff, and with generous support from North Carolina's citizens, we invest our knowledge and resources to enhance access to learning and to foster the success and prosperity of each rising generation."

The plaintiffs seek an order certifying that this is class action, injunctive and declaratory relief, and damages for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, unfair and deceptive trade practices, fraud in the inducement, constructive fraud, and fraudulent concealment.

Their lead counsel is Geraldine Sumter of Charlotte, NC.

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