More UNC academic fraud records now searchable

Posted December 22, 2015

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— The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has released more documents from a trove of 5 million pages of emails, memos and other records collected as part of the investigation into the school's long-running academic fraud scandal.

The December release, which totals more than 227,000 pages, comes about two months after the university posted 200,000-plus pages of unsearchable PDFs online in response to a public records request from The News & Observer and The Daily Tar Heel – the largest request in the university's history, according to school officials. The records release prompted WRAL News to launch an app in November that opened the search of those documents to the public.

UNC Chapel Hill Old Well Interactive: Search thousands of UNC scandal records

The documents UNC posted online last week, however, do contain "readable" text encoded in the files, allowing readers to search for words or phrases in many common PDF readers.

UNC spokesperson Jim Gregory said Monday that after conversations with the media and others following the release of the first batch, university officials decided making the documents searchable would improve transparency and save costs as they continue to release records.

"We thought it was the right thing to do," Gregory said.

Reporters from WRAL News added the newest documents to our application, allowing users to read and search nearly a half-million pages of records by names and other keywords.

For example, our app allows users to search for Butch Davis, UNC-Chapel Hill's former head football coach who was fired as the scandal began to brew in July 2011. His name returns 1,114 results, allowing readers to quickly find mentions of him in the documents, including many emails he sent and received.

Readers can also search for Julius Nyang'oro, a professor at the center of the scandal who chaired UNC-Chapel Hill's Department of African and Afro-American Studies. His name returns more than 1,985 results. A search for Mary Willingham turns up 1,336 results. She's the university's former academic adviser who spoke out against lax standards for student-athletes and has since written a book about the scandal.

The app includes shortcut searches for some of the most well-known names mentioned in the documents and in the Wainstein Report, which details the nearly two decades of academic fraud at the university.

Readers can run their own searches as well, but not all names will show up. The university has redacted students' names and other information it has deemed private.

Wainstein's 131-page report found student-athletes were given preferential treatment in the classroom and were specifically steered by academic counselors toward classes in the African and Afro-American Studies Department that rarely met and required only a paper to pass. Four employees were terminated or resigned as a result of the investigation. Six other employees still face a review by the university and could be disciplined.

UNC plans to release more of the 5 million records as they are reviewed and redacted to protect private information. As of November, the university said it had paid a law firm almost $3 million primarily for help preparing the documents for release, just part of the more than $10 million school officials have paid outside firms.

How we created the app

For the documents that weren't searchable, WRAL News used a Web-based service called DocumentCloud to process the documents with optical character recognition, which attempts to match images of text with their corresponding characters. OCR is never 100 percent accurate. Sometimes, letters and characters are too small, blurry or rendered in a difficult font. But it does give readers a chance to identify text in the documents.

New documents released by UNC in December were also uploaded to the collection, bringing the total number of pages to more than 400,000.

While there still may be a few bugs, the most important thing for readers to know is that we want the application to evolve with their feedback.

We hope it becomes a tool we can use to make public records more accessible to the public.

If you find something of interest, share via Twitter using the hashtag #UNCdocs, or send us an email to let us know how we can make the application better.


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  • bigwilliejohnson4phun Dec 22, 2015

    If anybody wants a dissertation on how this really happend, it started during the mid-70's when the Federal Governmet got involved in the slowness of integration at UNC. UNC came up with a stupid liberal solution, and the roosters have come home to roost. I will say the detractors saying negative things about UNC could never get admitted there, and they need to realize their national academic ranking has not been affected at all. UNC 78, Penn 80,

  • Mitch Darroch Dec 22, 2015
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    what is wrong with a degree in sports entertainment, with a masters in football, or baseball, or basketball, all of this is a joke, it is what it is. Just put it in the light instead of hiding in the dark

  • Russ Bullock Dec 22, 2015
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    Forget watching UNC sports. This Jeff and Tyrone wrestling match is better!

  • Tyrone Biggum Dec 22, 2015
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    Let's call them what they are: sham classes. When the only assignment that's turned in all year for one athlete is a plagiarized, 146 word "essay" taken almost word-for-word from the first page of Rosa Parks' autobiography (and receives an A- grade), the class is an absolute sham.

    There's a huge difference in taking easy classes and enrolling in non-existent classes where grades are given out for the sole purpose of keeping an athlete eligible as is apparently the case here in Chapel Hill.

    At this point, you're right. I am hoping the NCAA gets it right and comes down with the proper sanctions against this joke of cover-up.

  • Jeff Franklin Dec 22, 2015
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    Correction, they did NOT say they were "sham" classes.

  • Jeff Franklin Dec 22, 2015
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    I don't recall saying anything about what should happen. I really don't know. It is obvious that there were problems, and the NCAA has acknowledged that. But they did say they were "sham" classes, as you suggest. Work was done, albeit not at the level that should have been done or should have been expected. Athletes at every school gravitate toward the easiest classes they can find. Heck, so do a lot of students.

    I really have no clue how the NCAA will rule, not even a guess. I know what folks like you are hoping for, but I think you will be disappointed. And that is a key difference. I'll accept whatever the NCAA comes down with. Folks like you will be disappointed unless you get the result you want.

    Time will tell.

  • Tyrone Biggum Dec 22, 2015
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    Haha, yeah the major was "easy" alright. Okay so let's pretend Roy didn't know (wink). It's already been proven that these classes were a sham. Required no attendance, no homework, no tests. 167 enrollments by basketball players in these faux classes during Roy's tenure. You've already admitted there was a problem with the academics but you're telling us the "credit" received by the basketball players should still count? There has to be some consequence--what should it be? If you say 'nothing' I'm done with this debate.

  • Jeff Franklin Dec 22, 2015
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    But, just to put an end to this silliness, no investigation has implicated any coach at UNC of having been involved or known about this issue. All your theories and conspiracy comments are just that.

    The facts as found by multiple investigations are as I have stated. And that is something you are just going to have to live with, "Tyrone'.

  • Jeff Franklin Dec 22, 2015
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    I'll go slowly, Tyrone, because I need to apparently.

    Clustering in majors is different than anomalous courses. Athletes can "cluster" because majors are easy, not because the courses are anomalous. I really don't think it is that difficult to understand, but maybe I am wrong.

    No coach, at any school, is going to have a say in how classes are taught. That's not their role or their responsibility. Sorry.

  • Tyrone Biggum Dec 22, 2015
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    You're backpedaling quicker than Dre Bly out of his freshman AFAM101 class!

    You literally just said: "It is not the responsibility of any Coach, at any school, to validate the quality of the courses that are being taught."

    And 3 minutes later claim Roy didn't want his players "clustered" in the AFAM major so he instructed his assistant coach to steer them somewhere else. That would, in a very involved way, be validating their courses, champ.

    So which is it, Jeff?? Take a seat.