Education

UNC officials: Changes will ensure academic oversight

Posted October 23, 2014 5:25 p.m. EDT
Updated October 23, 2014 6:48 p.m. EDT

— One day after the release of a scathing report into academic fraud at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, UNC officials said Thursday that they will adjust policies and procedures across the system's 16 university campuses to ensure more oversight of curriculum requirements.

The 131-page report by Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor hired by UNC officials to conduct an independent investigation into fraudulent coursework and grades involving student-athletes that have dogged UNC-Chapel Hill for several years, detailed how academic counselors steered student-athletes to classes in the former Department of African and Afro-American Studies that never met.

According to the report, former department Chairman Julius Nyang'oro and his department manager, Deborah Crowder, were responsible for offering hundreds of “irregular” classes that had no faculty involvement. Crowder managed the classes and assigned grades.

The fraud began in 1993 and lasted until 2011, the report said, and investigators found 169 student-athletes whose grades in such classes kept them eligible to play. Of the 169, 123 were football players, 15 were men's basketball players, eight were women's basketball players and 26 played in one of the Olympic sports.

Although the UNC Board of Governors didn't discuss the report at their meeting Thursday, members were briefed before Wainstein's report was released. Harry Leo Smith Jr., chairman of the board's Budget and Finance Committee, said Thursday that UNC officials will work to continually improve academic oversight systemwide.

"We are here as an oversight mechanism and a support mechanism for the boards of trustees and leadership in general," Smith said. "From this point forward you will see a tremendous amount of oversight as we learn from this. There will be policies and procedures developed to ensure it doesn't happen on any of our campuses again."

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt said Wednesday that nine employees have been terminated or disciplined as a result of the investigation. She declined to release names, but WRAL News has confirmed that Beth Bridger, a former academic counselor for football at UNC-Chapel Hill, was fired Wednesday from her position at UNC-Wilmington.

Also, Jan Boxill is no longer listed as director of UNC-Chapel Hill's Parr Center for Ethics on the group's website. Boxill, a former chairwoman of the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, "made specific grade change suggestions for her women's basketball players," according to emails between her and Crowder included in the report.

Cynthia Reynolds, who was the lead football counselor, now works at Cornell University and refused to speak with Wainstein during the investigation.

Cornell spokesman Joel Malina said in an emailed statement Thursday that the university offered her paid time off to meet with investigators, adding "this was her decision to make."

Crowder's attorney likewise issued a statement that she wouldn't comment on the report after assisting in the investigation.

"Now that the Wainstein Report has been released and the investigation closed, Ms. Crowder is looking forward to moving on with her life," attorney Christopher Browning said.

Fraud tarnishes department, hurts student-athletes

Students and faculty in what is now known as the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies said Thursday that they also want to move past the fraud investigation.

"It kind of put a blemish on the department as a whole," student Dzidzai Muyengwa said.

Muyengwa said many students taking classes in the department during the years when no-show classes were held actually did their work. During her own time at UNC-Chapel Hill, she added, she's learned a lot.

"We actually have lectures. We do work. We write papers," she said.

Attorney Bob Orr said some of the student-athletes have likewise been hurt by the sham classes.

"When you look at that first year (allegations surfaced), all the fingers were pointed at the players. They were the bad guys. They were the culprits," Orr said. "We now know, after the report yesterday, there was a very comprehensive system. The players, in many ways, were victims in that system. They were used for their athletic talent to make money for the university, and many of them did not get anywhere near a quality education."

The scandal also damaged players' reputations and cost some potential professional opportunities, he said.

For example, the NCAA declared former defensive end Michael McAdoo ineligible in 2011 after he received help with a class paper from a tutor. McAdoo now plays football in Canada, but only after he was publicly labeled a cheater, according to Orr.

"You read the report and see everything Mike said – he simply followed the process that academic counselors and advisers told him to do – resulted in him being declared permanently ineligible," Orr said.

Former basketball player Rashaad McCants refused to cooperate with Wainstein's investigation, but he said the report reflects what he experienced at UNC.

"We weren't really there for an education. We were there to enhance our athletic abilities," McCants said. "As an athlete, you get a scholarship to the university to play basketball. I clearly didn't go to any classes."

Orr applauded Folt addressing the problem head on, but he said it points to the larger issue of accepting athletes who can't cut it in the classroom.

"We need to carry it forward, not just on the UNC campus but in the broader reform effort," he said.