UNC Af-Am chair avoided peer, departmental review

Posted November 6, 2014

Julius Nyang'oro appears in an Orange County courtroom on Dec. 3, 2013, where he pleaded not guilty to defrauding UNC-Chapel Hill by getting paid for a class he didn't teach.

— For almost 20 years, Julius Nyang'oro chaired the Department of African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Under his leadership, the department gained a reputation for, according to the Wainstein report, "offering independent study classes that awarded high grades with little to no regard for the quality of the student’s work in the course."

The university contracted former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein to look into allegations that sham classes were helping struggling students, especially student-athletes, keep their grades up.

Wainstein found proof of that and more, and presented his findings Oct. 22 to the Board of Trustees. The scheme outlined in his 131-page report was a result of a lack of "a woeful lack of oversight," he told them.

Harry L. Watson, professor of history, said the length of Nyang'oro's term should have been the first red flag.

"I don't know how Professor Nyang'oro got reappointed as chair over and over and over again for 20 years when the normal term for a chair is five years," Watson said.

Nyang'oro would have been directly supervised by the Senior Associate Dean for Social Sciences and Global Programs. Between 2005 and 2011, he had four bosses, and Arne Kalleberg renewed him as department chair in 2007. Kalleberg told Wainstein the re-appointing process was not designed to probe the department chair's performance.

Kalleberg's successor, Jonathan Hartlyn, who supervised Nyang'oro from 2009 through his retirement in 2011, "never had any inkling that Nyang’oro was offering the paper classes and only learned about them when Nyang’oro disclosed their existence during their meeting in the aftermath of the media disclosures," Wainstein wrote.

Watson said UNC essentially turned a blind eye while Nyang'oro and his office administrator, Deborah Crowder, registered students for courses, assigned topics and handed out high grades in an effort to keep grade-point averages high regardless of actual learning.

"I'm absolutely convinced that administrators were able to find out if they had taken the initiative," Watson said. "The idea that everybody who could have known did know, I think is a stretch."

Nyang'oro, like every tenured member of the UNC-CH faculty, would have been subject to peer review, too, but Wainstein found that never happened.

"They thought that would be awkward," Wainstein told the board. "So for 20 years, 19 or 20 years, that Nyang'oro was the chair, he was never reviewed by his peers."

The AFAM department, because it lacked a graduate program, fell outside the typical external departmental review as well, Wainstein found.

"There were glaring inefficiencies in oversight," he told the trustees.

Chancellor Carol Folt said changes effected since the scandal came to light have tightened up the oversight of professors and departments to keep such a thing from happening again at UNC. University leadership says more than 70 initiatives are already in place. Among them, regular reviews of department chairs and electronically tracking students enrolled in independent studies.

"We have already gone deeply into transforming our culture and our policies from the top down and bottom up," Folt said.

Still, some faculty wonder.

"How do we know that what we are putting in place is enough?" asked Beth Moracco, associated professor of Health and Behavior.


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  • btneast Nov 7, 2014

    This is what happens when the fear of being politically incorrect drives the process.

  • wufwuf1 Nov 7, 2014

    We are supposed to believe that after over 200 years, the Wainstien report educated UNC on how to run a university. Before now, they thought peer review was a nice thing to do but not a necessity. NOW they truly understand, they didn't do it before with AFAM because, "They thought that would be awkward," Wainstein told the board. "So for 20 years, 19 or 20 years, that Nyang'oro was the chair, he was never reviewed by his peers." They understand it now though.. Finally after over 200 years as an institution of public ivy they understand.
    At one point in the article someone almost gets it, but their logic swerves off the road and hits a metaphorical tree. "I'm absolutely convinced that administrators were able to find out if they had taken the initiative," Watson said. "The idea that everybody who could have known did know, I think is a stretch." A much larger stretch is that UNC perpetuates the idea that everyone that should have known, conveniently didn't know.

  • anonymous99 Nov 7, 2014

    Why should anyone be surprised by this? AFAM escaped accountability because any attempt at accountability would have resulted in cries of 'racism'. Anyone who denies that is lying. It was not worth the risk to others on the faculty, who just wanted to teach and research their own fields.

    AFAM should not exist. If you want to study African American history, you should be able to get a history degree with a focus in that area. That is how everything else works.

    Academia has been defending nonsense like AFAM to their own detriment. There is almost no accountability in undergraduate education as it is. PC only removes what little accountability exists in the institution itself. It was only a matter of time...

  • exposure102 Nov 7, 2014

    What's the big deal? He's just doing what the government has been doing for ages - giving people handouts without them having to work for it.

  • Nan Toppin Nov 7, 2014
    user avatar

    I am sick of hearing about what Nyang'oro did and didn't do...he is a responsible party...we get it. But there are MANY OTHER responsible parties and we need to net those folks out. It's time to stop trying to pin an 18 year academic fraud scandal on two people...Nyang'oro and his administrator. No one is buying that.

  • Brandon White Nov 7, 2014
    user avatar

    As a society, are liberals doing AA's a favor, when they dismiss accountability for responsibilities that they hold for other groups? This is such a heinous form of racism that is constantly employed by the socio-fascists, (liberals).

  • Dana McCall Nov 7, 2014
    user avatar

    Why didn't Bruce ask Watson if he believed that race was a factor in the level of oversight?

  • Carol Smith Nov 6, 2014
    user avatar

    And this is just one more reason to say that nobody was minding the store! Deans and dept heads are supposed to ensure that these reviews take place!!!

  • wlbbjb Nov 6, 2014

    Gutless bunch of wonders - they didn't want to know. It all revolves around the sports program. Every article I've read seems to dodge that issue. They are terrified they'll have to change that program and it will cost them financially.