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As mentioned last week, the JLF research staff is completing the upcoming edition of our City and County Issue Guide. Topics will include land use and zoning and Smart Growth. These sections will provide principles to reform land-use regulations and approach local growth issues in ways that benefit the entire community.

Such aspects would be useful in discussions like the one going on in High Point at present. As discussed this week by Sam Hieb in Carolina Journal, the city of High Point has commissioned a plan to revitalize its downtown. The plan features a mix of "new urbanist" ideas:

  • public/private partnerships to provide an auditorium, an amphitheater and "sea can" developments, which would be "structures made from shipping containers"
  • a "pink code" that would cut some of the red tape and regulations affecting downtown development
  • converting a downtown parking lot into a "cool gathering spot" for young people
  • traffic calming on Main Street, shrinking a section from four lanes down to two

Teed off in Wilmington?

The previous edition of the City and County Issue Guide had an entry on Parks and Recreation that counseled local governments to "restructure their parks and recreation departments to eliminate activities and services that are offered or could be offered by private businesses and those that serve only a small minority of residents. Local governments should also implement user fees to recover the full costs of services that benefit only specialized groups."

The prime example used was of money-losing municipal golf courses.

Such advice could have been useful in Wilmington, which used to boast of having the 50th-most popular municipal golf course in the country. As of 2009 golfers could reportedly play a round of 18 holes for less than $20. (Could a property tax-paying, private golf course offer golfers a similar rate? Highly doubtful.)

Last year the City of Wilmington paid over $120,000 to John Fought Design Golf Course Architecture to make improvements to the course, a project that was initially estimated to cost $700,000.

Now, however, WWAY reports that the project "will most likely cost more than $1 million." Which would be at least 43 percent above original estimates.

An ‘alternate’ look at the UNC scandal

In a previous capacity, I wrote about higher education. Perhaps it was that plus the troubling academic fraud at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the annual saturation of college basketball talk that permeates the air here like fog in a Gothic horror movie, but I somehow imagined reading the following report as if it came from an alternate universe:

Shocking claim: Some top college students read like adults, play like kids

Allie Yoop remembers the day vividly. She was in her office working as a sports specialist when it happened.

"This student, a senior, came to speak to me," Yoop said, looking out the window as if the memory were too painful to keep indoors. "You know how they say someone probably can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? Well, this poor kid, he tripped over nothing, over his own feet, and when he landed, hard, a piece of gum fell out of his mouth. It was still in the wrapping paper."

"I looked at that poor boy and thought, here’s another kid who can’t play basketball," she said. "And this is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill."

The moment inspired Yoop. She started to research the problem. And what she found disturbed her.

Yoop compiled data on the skill levels of thousands of UNC-Chapel Hill students admitted for nonathletic reasons from 2004 to 2012. She found that 60 percent had at best a middle-school level of basketball aptitude. Worse, she found that about 10 percent played below a third-grade level.

"My research confirms that the vast majority of UNC students, the ones who dunk at all, are dunking only on the four- to eight-foot level," said Yoop.

Yoop has been at the center of a firestorm since she took her findings to CNN. The cable news giant took her work and replicated it at several major athletic institutions around the country. Nevertheless, UNC featured prominently in the report because of its reputation.

Yoop insisted that she wasn’t out to embarrass the university. "I tried several times to tell the administration, but you know they were too busy playing ’21.’"

She turned whistleblower because, as she put it, "Sometimes blowing the whistle is the only way to stop the game. It’s what they understand."

UNC has been rocked by an ongoing athletic fraud scandal ever since Student Body President Michael Q. Jordan sent out an unfortunate tweet asking why it’s called a basketball "when it bears no semblance to a basket." Public outcry led to several investigations, leading to several embarrassing revelations:

  • Athletically unprepared students are directed by advisors into special rooms called "classes" where they are placed under direct adult supervision of a professional sitter (called a "professor" for short)
  • Sitters have complete control over the classes and actively prevent the honing of athletic abilities, often going so far as to keep students seated for the duration of the class and limiting activities to reading, writing, "active listening," and playing question-and-answer
  • Exorbitant salaries — frequently extending into six figures plus benefits — are paid to the sitters
  • Many sitters are further granted "tenure," meaning they are essentially unfireable, even now
  • Sitters’ control over students often extended beyond the class time by the imposition of lengthy reading and writing assignments specifically required to take place outside of the class, and they have even developed special strategies to test for whether students are keeping to those instructions
  • UNC had been able for years to keep this elaborate system from attracting outside suspicion by judiciously interspersing athletically gifted students among the classes; however, unlike the others they are also assigned coaches who ensure they aren’t made to neglect athletics

UNC officials, unhappy with the new scrutiny, are casting doubt on Yoop’s research.

"Quite thoroughly unwarranted," said Dean Dean Dean of the Physics Dept. (a tenured sitter who favors physics talk). "I use basketballs in my class. Every one of my students knows how to roll them. I’m really proud of those kids."

Yoop offered to share her findings, but upon hearing that, Dean decided to conduct an impromptu experiment in acceleration.

Meantime, UNC officials have put a stop to Yoop’s research for several reasons. For one, said Academics Director Phil Betakap, the test upon which much of it was based isn’t compatible with basketball. Yoop, he said, is misinterpreting the data and inflating the findings.

"It was a Nerf test," she admitted, "but that has for years been used as an experimental substitute."

Betakap said Yoop also committed a breach of privacy with the data. "I don’t think she meant to, though," he said. "But you can bet Norm L. Case won’t like it when he learns that everyone knows he gets a nosebleed whenever he tries to dribble."

Plus, Betakap said, Yoop’s stats are just wrong, and UNC needs to figure out why they’re wrong. Statistics for 2012-13 released by Betakap at a Faculty Council meeting paint a different picture from Yoop’s. "Our results show that 97 percent of students who could dunk when they arrived to campus can dunk now," he said. "And that study’s margin of error is three percentage points."

Yoop is standing by her research, however.

"The issue for me is clear," she said. "What kind of athletic institution do we want UNC to be?"

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