UNC trustees hear update on academic misconduct investigation

Posted July 26, 2012 1:09 p.m. EDT
Updated July 26, 2012 1:13 p.m. EDT

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Trustees heard Thursday about several efforts underway to ensure that academic misconduct that happened in recent years can never happen again.

A faculty panel has reviewed a recent UNC-Chapel Hill internal investigation into the African and Afro-American Studies Department, independent studies courses and services provided to athletes. The report is expected to be released soon, and leaders say they support the university’s reviews done so far.

UNC’s internal review found problems with 54 classes in the African and Afro-American Studies Department going back to the 2006-07 school year. Members of the Tar Heels football and basketball teams made up nearly 40 percent of the enrollees in those classes; nearly another 20 percent were student-athletes in other sports.

The report is also likely to recommend an outside consultant look at how athletics and academics intersect at UNC.

Chancellor Holden Thorp said the outside consultant will likely be a former chancellor or university president.

"That way, our stakeholders who are concerned that this will happen again, not only do they have our assurance that we addressed it, but they have a third party coming in and reviewing that (to) certify the changes that we are making," said Thorp.

Meanwhile, the UNC Trustees Chairman announced the group is close to hiring a firm to review the controls UNC currently has in place.

"We need to have some external validation that these measures are the best practices to ensure and help us avoid the problems that we encountered during the last year," said Wade Hargrove.

The Board of Trustees is expected to recommend a firm for the review sometime in the next week.

Last Friday, the university went before UNC system leaders to explain the steps they took to detect problems in the troubled department. UNC President Tom Ross appointed a panel of five from the Board of Governors to look into the internal investigation to determine if leaders did enough to detect academic problems and correct them. Friday marked their first meeting.

UNC leaders say that, in some cases, students turned in work with no supervision. In other situations, instructors’ names may have been forged on documents and grades changed.

At the center of the controversy is retired African and Afro-American Studies Department Chairman Julius Nyang’Oro, who is the listed professor for 30 of the classes in question. Nyang’Oro retired this summer but was first forced to repay $12,000 to the school for teaching a 2011 summer course as an independent study rather than a lecture.

Former department administrator Debbie Crowder retired in the fall of 2009. According to the internal investigation done by UNC, they are the only two directly involved with the irregular courses and fraud.

The State Bureau of Investigation is also looking what happened to see if there was any criminal activity going on, such as a possible conspiracy to conceal a crime.