Education

Former governor to dig deeper into UNC academics

Posted August 16, 2012 3:37 p.m. EDT
Updated August 16, 2012 9:42 p.m. EDT

— Leaders at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill have asked former Gov. Jim Martin to lead an investigation into academic improprieties at the school. Martin will coordinate with an outside consulting group and will report his findings to the UNC Board of Governors.

"We wanted to get to the bottom of this. We've always wanted to get to the bottom of this," Chancellor Holden Thorp said. "As I think anybody can see, it's a very complicated situation with a lot of layers."

The academic scandal was sparked last summer when, in attempt to get reinstated to the team, football player Michael McAdoo's lawyers included an assignment for a class in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies in their court filings. A review of that paper showed that it borrowed heavily from another source.

Since that time, reports have questioned the practices of the department and threatened to draw in the wider university.

Thorp and others have maintained that any improprieties ended with the retirement of former department chairman Julius Nyang’oro and staffer Deborah Crowder.

In May, an internal UNC investigation revealed unauthorized grades, forged signatures and other irregularities in 54 courses in that department. Martin is tasked with looking beyond the scope of that report for any other irregularities in courses before 2007.

Thorp said the university wanted to find someone who is objective, not affiliated with UNC and holds the trust of the people of North Carolina to conduct the new investigation. "The one name that came to mind was Jim Martin," Thorp said.

A faculty subcommittee report in July noted that advisers in the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes directed athletes to classes in the African and Afro-American Studies Department, but still pinned the blame only on Nyang'Oro and Crowder.

A WRAL News investigation into independent study courses offered through the Af-Am department found lots of athletes enrolled and earning sometimes double the number of credits offered by other departments for the same type of course.

"Every time we got to another layer, we were satisfied that we had gotten to that," Thorp said."But we understand that the work that we did, while we think it's strong and thorough, if people have further questions, we welcome those questions."

"We are determined to make sure that our internal controls are such that irregularities of the past will not recur," Thorp wrote in a letter to trustees, faculty and staff Thursday.

Trustees said they welcomed the independent investigation. "There's still work to be done so that we fully understand why this happened," trustee Lowry Caudill said.

After Martin's report, the university will retain another task force to provide analysis of and recommendations for the relationship between athletics and academics at UNC. "Our goal is to engage the entire campus community in a meaningful discussion and analysis of the role of athletics in the life of the university," Thorp wrote.

He also announced a planned reorganization of the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes, including a new leader.

UNC students said they think the moves would ultimately reflect well on the university.

"It's a good thing so that it can clean up Carolina's name," student I.K. David said.

"(It's going to) give us a better reputation as students here and try to keep the prestige of the school," said student Ryan Campbell.

Thorp told WRAL News that the changes announced Thursday were long in the works but were finalized only recently. No timetable for the completion of Martin's investigation has been set.