Chapel Hill, N.C. — Following intense scrutiny over the last year, the African and Afro-American Studies Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has reformed practices, policies and procedures and will even get a new name.
At a meeting Thursday of the UNC Board of Governors, Department Chair Eunice Sahle said that effective July 1, 2013, the department will be known as the Department of African, African-American Diaspora Studies. Sahle also outlined numerous changes that have been made and are currently being implemented in the department.
Among the modifications are new courses, a regulated process for students adding classes, stricter guidelines for independent study courses and syllabus reviews.
A previous internal review found problems with 54 classes in the AFAM department in a four-year period with most of the issues linking former department chair Julius Nyang’oro and a retired administrative assistant. Another review, led by former Gov. Jim Martin, is ongoing and looking into how far back the problems may have gone.
Independent studies within the AFAM department have received particular scrutiny after an investigation by WRAL News showed they were over-enrolled and under-supervised compared to similar courses in other departments. The reforms highlighted Thursday addressed those concerns specifically.
Moving forward, only majors within the AFAM department will be allowed to take independent study courses and must have a certain grade point average to be eligible. Also, all courses will be required to have a syllabus that has been approved by the department chair.
Students who wish to add an AFAM class during the first week of class will have to have the approval of both faculty and Sahle, and all grade change forms will be reviewed before being signed-off. The department also plans to audit student class schedules three times per year.
“We are very, very happy, even though the reforms are coming in the midst of a crisis,” Sahle said. “From my perspective, shared governance is the best way to promote the active involvement of faculty.”
Sahle also said that the new curriculum is “very well organized,” indicating that the course numbering system has been restructured. Students must now go through the natural progression of 100-level courses before escalating to higher-levels. It was pointed out in Thursday’s meeting that in the past, as much as 18 percent of 400-level students within the Arts and Sciences school were first-year students.
Chancellor Holden Thorp said that it has been an “extraordinarily difficult time” for the AFAM department, but the changes implemented by Sahle were created with “great vision.”
Also Thursday, Thorp outlined steps that UNC-CH has taken at a university level to restore academic integrity and ensure transparency. He announced a new, public website which will track the continuing investigation (academicreview.unc.edu).
“Students drink from the well every year because it stands for something. We owe it to those students to get this right and be sure nothing like this ever happens again,” Thorp said. “My interest, and I’m sure your interest, is that all students get the high-quality of education we expect at Carolina.”
Thorp added that once the reviews by Martin and the UNC Board of Governors are completed, Hunter Rawlings will conduct a review of the future relationship between athletics and academics. All will be made available on the website.
Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said that he has made a commitment to put academics first and is in the middle of developing a plan which will be released publicly in October. The development for a strategic plan started in April, Cunningham said.
"Our responsibility in athletics is to give them some life-lessons on the field," Cunningham said.
Cunningham added that UNC is one of the leading universities in the country academically, but also competes at top levels athletically and priorities are most important in how measuring success. He outlined those priorities as Aligning operations with the mission of the university, succeed in academic achievement, be top in athletic performance and have strong academic support for student-athletes.
"(I've looked at UNC) as kind of a beacon for doing things right and doing things well," Cunningham said. "I think we have the opportunity right now to build something different, but we are going to have to do that with other institutions."
Peppers’ transcript explained
Thorp also gave some insight Thursday into how the transcript of former football and basketball player Julius Peppers ended up on the university website.
Thorp said the issue dates back to 2001 when a staff member created a test copy for the student information system on what was at the time a secure server. The test transcript was a copy of Peppers’ transcript, although his personal information was removed.
However, during a 2007 technology transition, a second staff member moved the transcript to an unsecured server. The first staffer was disciplined and the second is no longer employed at the university.
Vice Chancellor for Information Technology Services and Chief Information Officer Larry Conrad said that the transcript was never published on the university’s website and that it was discovered on the unsecured server “through a sequence of targeted searches that ultimately yielded the URL.”
“The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill takes very seriously the obligation to protect students’ academic records, which is why the recent exposure of a version of Julius Peppers’ transcript and its subsequent publication in media outlets was extremely troubling,” Thorp said. “We greatly regret this, and we have apologized to Mr. Peppers.”