WRAL Investigates

UNC profs: Af-Am courses exceeded norm

Posted August 7, 2012

WRAL Investigates

— In May, an internal investigation at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill revealed unauthorized grades, forged signatures and other irregularities in 54 courses in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. 

The probe started in September 2011 following published reports that claimed plagiarism and other discrepancies on a course paper written by former Tar Heels football player Michael McAdoo. The paper, submitted to professor Julius Nyang’oro, was revealed to be largely reproduced from other sources. UNC Academics Investigation Archive: UNC investigation

Of the 54 courses in question from the start of the summer session in 2007 to the end of the summer session in 2011, Nyang’oro taught 43, and many of the students enrolled were athletes.

Athletes enrolled in independent study

The UNC internal report, however, only covered lecture courses. WRAL News looked at data about independent study courses offered by the department and found additional red flags – lots of athletes with the potential for earning twice the credit offered by other departments for similar work.

An independent study is defined as a class in which a student is doing in-depth work outside of the classroom with supervision from a faculty member. UNC's review did mention a problem with how independent studies were tracked in the African and Afro-American Studies Department, but it didn't go in-depth about those issues.

In the first summer session of 2010, six students were registered for an independent study course in the department. All were members of the UNC football or men's basketball team. In the second session, an independent study of 11 students had eight football or men's basketball players.

WRAL identified nine courses over four years where enrollment seemed out of the ordinary:

  • AFAM 396 Summer 2nd session 2007: 7 total students enrolled; 0 current or former football and/or men’s basketball players
  • AFRI 396 Summer 2nd session 2007: 16 total students enrolled, 8 current or former football and/or men’s basketball players
  • AFAM 396 Summer 1st session 2008: 4 total students enrolled; 1 current or former football and/or men’s basketball players
  • AFRI 396 Summer 2nd session 2008: 13 total students enrolled; 2 current or former football and/or men’s basketball players
  • AFRI 396 Fall 2008: 9 total students enrolled; 4 current or former football and/or men’s basketball players
  • AFAM 396 Summer 1st session 2009: 2 total students enrolled; 0 current or former football and/or men’s basketball players
  • AFRI 396 Summer 1st session 2009: 4 total students enrolled; 3 current or former football and/or men’s basketball players
  • AFAM 396 Summer 1st session 2010: 6 total students enrolled; 6 current or former football and/or men’s basketball players
  • AFRI 396 Summer 2nd session 2010: 11 total students enrolled; 8 current or former football and/or men’s basketball players

Lloyd Kramer, chairman of the UNC History Department, said the number of enrollees alone would be cause for concern. "That would be very unusual in our department. That would raise red flags," he said. 

"Typically, there would be one or, at most, two students doing an independent course with a faculty member. At least in our department that's the usual course arrangement," Kramer said.

The numbers also seemed high to Jay Smith, a professor in the history department. I more than 20 years at UNC, Smith said he has only taught two independent study courses with one student each.

Smith also raised concerns about the number of athletes in some of the courses.

"You wonder how those athletes wound up in that course, what they were doing when they got there, what purpose that particular course was serving in their own academic schedules," he said. 

It appears at least some players were taking independent studies courses outside of their major.

The UNC football media guide lists only five members of the 2012 team as majors in African and Afro-American Studies. Three had switched into that department after their junior year.

WRAL News was unable to reach any of the former players to ask if they had taken the independent studies classes.

Both Kramer and Smith say it's not terribly common for students to take independent study courses outside of their major, but it does happen if a student has a particular interest.

"That in itself is not unusual, provided there is a good intellectual reason," Smith said.

Course credit double the norm

Students in independent study classes offered through the Department of African and Afro-American Studies could earn up to six credit hours, double the normal amount offered by most departments. 

In the nine courses WRAL News looked into, 72 students were enrolled; 43 percent (31 students) were football players and one was a basketball player. Twelve students got more than three credit hours for their work. The school says five of those 12 were current or former football players. The basketball player got the more standard three credit hours.

UNC has blamed problems in the department on Nyang'oro, the former chairman who retired in July, and his former administrative assistant. Neither has been available to answer questions about the courses. 

Apparently, the department listed multiple independent studies students under a single instructor, even if other instructors actually supervised the students. That makes it difficult to determine which instructors were involved with independent study courses. WRAL News tried to contact the instructors listed as having taught the courses, including the new chairman of African and Afro-American Studies but did not hear back from them.

"I'm anxious to know a lot more about what happened in these courses," Smith said. "What kind of work was performed, how the university even knows the work was turned in." 

UNC leaders have repeatedly said they don't believe questionable classes in the department were set up specifically to help athletes because non-athletes were also enrolled.

Amid the questions about how and why the department managed the course, the university has added policies regarding independent studies to try and keep this from happening again. Now, faculty members are no longer allowed to supervise more than two independent study students per term. An independent study now requires a contract to detail what is expected from the student and instructor.

Kramer said he is concerned the lingering questions hurt the credibility of hard-working faculty at UNC and classes intended to be some of the most rigorous.

"I feel like the fallout from these abuses could undermine something that is a legitimate and valuable part of the intellectual experience of many students," he said.

Read more WRAL Investigates stories or contact the WRAL Investigates team.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Sherlock Aug 8, 2012

    What is the big deal, the are not your normal attneding students they pay vast amounts of moey to attned, these are special students that work for the college, bring in big money for sports which is far more inportant than an education...

  • Save It Aug 8, 2012

    What's happened is sad. No longer is college athletics about choosing the best STUDENT athletes to represent each school from a pool of academics. In high visibility sports it is now about finding the best high school athletes, no matter how dumb, and molding loose academic criteria around them so they can stay enrolled long enough for an NCAA win. Now when they fail to make it to the pros they can fail in business too.

  • not my real name Aug 8, 2012

    Well now, could it have been any easier for them? Geeze. What a scam. This just perpetuates and proves the general assumption. What does the NAACP have to say about this? Not much I'm sure.

  • forautumn Aug 8, 2012

    "Says the UNC fan combing through articles' comments sections trying to find posts by an NC State fan. Pffff"

    Wow...would be hard to tell you are a State fan since you haven't posted about your adopted mater's game yesterday, but you are very busy on this story.

    The lady doth protest too much...the obsession continues.

  • The Gooch Aug 8, 2012

    "How to identify an obsessed Red Rager."

    Says the UNC fan combing through articles' comments sections trying to find posts by an NC State fan. Pffff

  • canfarce12 Aug 8, 2012

    This is sad on the part of some faculty at UNC. The even sadder part is that this probably happens at every college with a major college football/basketball program.

  • sunshine1040 Aug 8, 2012

    How many students paid to take these courses out of their own pocket. And theses classes have helped how many to get a job that pays pays enough for them to live on . No wonder our college grads cannot find or run a business if this is the standard for all colleges. It is a waste of our money. If they want to learn about africa all they needed to do was take the money they were going to spend on this class and go to Africa and see how they live there

  • forautumn Aug 8, 2012

    " Institutionalized fraud has been exposed."

    Really? From one professor?

  • forautumn Aug 8, 2012

    How to identify an obsessed Red Rager.

    Story about NCSU basketball win in Spain-0 comments from the Gooch.

    Story about investigation at UNC-4 comments from the Gooch.

    Says a lot about the lady's priorities.

  • tran Aug 8, 2012

    "This is not news at all but pretty commonplace in college athletics, especially in football and basketball."

    In other words, everybody's doing it. Yeah, right.

    This isn't merely a matter of jocks taking easy courses. Institutionalized fraud has been exposed.