Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Little Sunday Innuendo

The Raleigh News & Observer dropped a partial transcript of Marvin Austin's academic record they somehow obtained and accompanied it with a little talk about what it all means. Here's the full story.

Firstly, I'd like to touch on the transcript itself. Austin was enrolled in several classes that are known to be taken by athletes. Whether or not they're "easy As" is not something I care to discuss. In fact, while I have never taken an AFAM class, there are five courses on his transcript that I have taken for requirements or electives. I'm not writing to pass judgment on what courses he took. I don't care.

Credit: N&O
Here's a bit of information for those of you who aren't UNC students and are unfamiliar with this particular transcript. It comes from the old StudentCentral portal that used to be the place you went for class registration (it's now been switched to ConnectCarolina, which is hated by most anyone who uses it). This transcript is not an official one and did not come from the University, as said in the article. It also seems to have been printed during the final exam period in Spring 2009 -- he has final grades in two courses while others haven't been finalized and his class schedule for the upcoming semesters has been made. My conclusion: Whoever got this transcript had access to Austin's StudentCentral account. All that's necessary to know his Onyen (mine is jjones9 and anyone can find that anywhere) and his password, which UNC forces you to change every three or four months. Is it possible he left this up at the computer lab and someone scooped it? Maybe. But this looks like someone had this puppy for a while before turning it over.

As for the reporting in the article, I don't know Dan Kane but I have read his work plenty and respect what I've read. A lot of folks on Twitter have brought up the point that the article contradicts its premise and that it attempts to say something but doesn't come out and say it. Let's look at the contradiction first. Kane leads with the oddness of Austin taking a 400-level course as a college freshman. But he later writes that UNC spokesman Mike McFarland "said university registrar records show 1,033 freshmen took a 400 level course in the last academic year." Yes, plenty of freshmen take 400 level courses -- it's not that strange. However, it is strange that it was his first-ever class in college, though. Especially when he wasn't even able to be placed into English 101 and had to take 100 first. Kane points all of this out, but I think people are a little too preoccupied with the 1,033 number to recognize it.

Now for the innuendo. Joey Powell, whom I met Friday and keeps my timeline entertaining, tweeted at me today that he's "tired of these parsed stories that are innuendo and no more." Indeed, this story seems to be saying there's an issue with this particular professor, Julius Nyang'Oro, and his AFAM class. But it doesn't actually say it. Why? Because no one would talk. Kane reports that the N&O called, emailed, probably texted and even showed up at the guy's house and no one came to the door. The next step would be to talk to his bosses, but Chancellor Thorp and the Dean of Arts and Sciences did not make themselves available for comment, the article states. 

Kane did his due diligence by reaching out to those who needed to comment and he could not get those comments. Powell said he should have waited on those quotes before running with the story. What Kane presents is the story as he can tell it with what he had. He can't torch Nyang'Oro without the man being able to speak for himself (a no-comment would have even helped). In a newspaper article he can't say the professor is crooked without asking the professor "Are you crooked?" The story does what it can with what it has. In my humble, journalistic opinion, I think you run the story with what you have. There's no telling how long the N&O had to sit on that transcript working to build the story before finally saying, "All right. He's not even answering his front door. Let's write what we can write."

As for me, I've taken three 400-level course in my six semesters at UNC, and they were all in the spring of my junior year. I don't know how those freshmen did it.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your point. As a journalist, if your subjects aren't cooperating with you, then it's your duty to put the evidence you have out there for the reader to see and allow them to draw their own conclusion. You gave the people in question a chance to defend themselves, and they declined to do so. That shouldn't force you to throw out a story.