Faculty leader: UNC owes apology to academic whistleblower

Posted October 31, 2014
Updated November 3, 2014

— Professors at North Carolina's flagship public university met Friday for the first time in the aftermath of an independent investigation that showed campus leaders, faculty members and staff missed or just ignored red flags that could have stopped an academic fraud scandal that ran for nearly two decades.

Faculty leaders spoke candidly of their disappointment with the way that University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill handled a trickle of reports of impropriety that built to the flood of information released last week by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein.

UNC should "formally apologize" to Mary Willingham, the researcher "who told the university for free what the Wainstein report documents in excruciating detail," said history professor Harry Watson.

"Had UNC embraced her leadership in 2012, the institution would have been spared years of humiliation and untold financial costs," Watson said.

His remarks were met with applause.

"Removing a bunch of scapegoats won’t solve the problem," said fellow history professor Jay Smith. "We have to solve the systemic problems."

W. Hodding Carter III, professor of leadership and public policy, spoke up for Smith, who has been outspoken about UNC's efforts to build a big-time football program on the backs of students who may not be able to handle a UNC course load.

During the meeting, faculty members offered ideas to regain Carolina's national academic reputation, including ending special admission standards for select student-athletes and limiting the time that students can spend in athletic pursuits.

They acknowledged that some changes would put the Tar Heels at a competitive disadvantage.

"There is something wrong with the faculty council, which is incapable of confronting administration," Carter said, noting that some on the council "ostracized" Smith while the scandal brewed.

The 131-page Wainstein report found about 1,500 athletes and slightly more regular students benefited over about 18 years from sham classes and artificially high grades in the formerly African and Afro-American Studies Department.

It was the latest in a series of revelations of manipulation used behind the scenes to keep Tar Heel athletes academically eligible. Wainstein detailed how academic counselors steered student-athletes to classes in the former Department of African and Afro-American Studies that never met.

According to the report, former department Chairman Julius Nyang'oro and his department manager, Deborah Crowder, were responsible for offering hundreds of “irregular” classes that had no faculty involvement. Crowder managed the classes and assigned grades.

The fraud began in 1993 and lasted until 2011, the report said, and investigators found 169 student-athletes whose grades in such classes kept them eligible to play. Of the 169, 123 were football players, 15 were men's basketball players, eight were women's basketball players and 26 played in one of the Olympic sports.

Chancellor Carol Folt was present for the meeting of the faculty council, which comes after an opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education called for UNC to lose its accreditation.

"This is an issue of institutional integrity, a violation of the most basic assumption upon which the credibility of any college or university is based," wrote Brian Rosenberg.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits UNC and put the university on notice when claims of academic impropriety surfaced, is again evaluating UNC's status, organization president Belle Wheelan told WRAL News.

Folt's immediate response to the Wainstein report was to dismiss or discipline nine employees.

UNC leaders did not identify those they found to be at fault, but WRAL News has identified two likely casualties. Beth Bridger, a former academic counselor for football at UNC-Chapel Hill, was fired from her position at UNC-Wilmington on the day the report was delivered.

Jan Boxill, a former chairwoman of the UNC-CH faculty council, whom the report said "made specific grade change suggestions for her women's basketball players," was no longer listed as director of UNC-Chapel Hill's Parr Center for Ethics on the group's website.

Although all the allegations are in the past, Wheelan said SACS would consider the Wainstein report as a new issue.


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  • LuvsThePack Nov 3, 2014

    UNC* owes a lot of apologies to a lot of people (and teams).

  • dws Oct 31, 2014

    "Fraud".....any way you slice it, it is what it is......for 18 YEARS.......

  • seedofdoubt Oct 31, 2014

    JWSAWYER OCT 31, 3:45 P.M.

    I am a UNC fan. BUT - The problem is - this was not the athletic departments doing.

    Did you see the Crowder retiring Power Point Presentation?

  • ugot2bekiddingme Oct 31, 2014

    Was any taxpayer money wasted? Pensions and pay for professors who taught paper classes? Good high school students who were denied admission because of athletes who took up too many spots? What an arrogant bunch UNC is. They owe much more than an apology.

  • Kevin O'Donnell Oct 31, 2014
    user avatar

    I bet she will make a fortune in a lawsuit. I just hope the $$ comes from Ol' Roy (I know NOTHING, NOTHING) or the Rams Club

  • wallhokiesvt Oct 31, 2014

    UNC should beg her to come back. Pay her some huge dollars too. She had enough fortitude to speak up while others ran and hid this for years. I salute Willingham. The biggest cheating University in over 25 years. It's not over yet.

  • Stacie Hagwood Oct 31, 2014
    user avatar

    The only way to get back on track is to forfeit all wins for all sports during the documented time, forfeit all money gained from bowl games, etc, and a formal apology to Mary Willingham. Then going forward, not student should be accepted who cannot academically compete, regardless of athletic prowess. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Or you can just keep on keepin' on and throw all integrity out the window.

  • dws Oct 31, 2014

    View quoted thread

    why is that?

  • lspeters52 Oct 31, 2014

    I am so sorry Jim Valvano.

  • tgcmisc Oct 31, 2014

    WOE be until Ms. Folt and Bubba and Roy and Larry. The UPRISING has begun.

    For those of us who lived (and REMEMBER) the Witch Hunt and Crucifixion of James T. Valvano, this is HOW it begun. The Faculty Senate, with some prodding (and manipulation by Claude Sitton) began to REVOLT. They fired the Chancellor, Joab Thomas (who went to Bama and then on to PSU...and is the FOUNDER of our Vet School). THEN they elected ONE of their OWN....St. Larry Monteith of EE fame. He immediately donned sack cloth and ashes and proclaimed that Jimmy V had sinned....and would well as the University. We imposed our OWN sanctions.....and told the NCAA to THROW THE BOOK AT US.

    NOW, I understand that St. Monteith has a "Athletic Program Dismemberment for Dummies" book out and that it was handed out in UNC today. Statues of St. Monteith are on sale in the UNC Book store.

    This is a SERIOUS rebuke. Ms. Folt will need more than a blue scarf to warm up after the chilly reception today.