Board of Governors: UNC scandal 'terrible,' 'embarrassing'

Posted February 7, 2013 10:32 a.m. EST
Updated February 7, 2013 6:53 p.m. EST

— Members of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors heard yet another report Thursday on the academic and athletic scandal that has cast a pall on UNC-Chapel Hill over the past three years.

"It was a terrible scandal," said W. Louis Bissette, the board member who led the panel. "It should never have happened."

Jim Deal agreed. "It is embarrassing. It's inexcusable," he said.

The panel told the rest of the board that it may never know if athletes were steered to bogus classes, but added that there was no evidence to support a conspiracy between the athletic department and UNC-Chapel Hill's Department of African and Afro-American Studies.

Bissette pointed out the limits of what they could determine. "We are not an investigative body. We are a review panel," he said.

"We found no evidence to support a conclusion that a conspiracy or collusion existed between the athletic department and the academic support program for student athletes on the one hand, and the two complicit former employees in the AFAM department on the other hand. It is, however, reasonable to assume, and this panel believes, that many students, athletes and non-athletes alike, enrolled in these irregular AFAM department courses expecting to receive good grades with very little effort," Bissette said.

A probe led by former Gov. Jim Martin yielded similar findings in December and placed the blame for 14 years of no-show classes, instructors who didn't teach, grades that were changed and faked grade reports on the shoulders of Dr. Julius Nyang’oro, the now-retired head of that department, and his administrator Deborah Crowder.

"It is inconceivable that this was two people that did this," said Burley Mitchell, board member and former chief justice of North Carolina, responded.

"It was clearly also an athletic problem to an extreme," he said, pointing to allegations that academic counselors steered athletes to certain classes.

The panel's report also focused on the length of time the scandal went on, saying it was difficult to understand why no one came forward to try and stop it at any point between 1997 and 2011. 

"It was like the chairman had a fiefdom and nobody ever looked at what the king was doing," Deal said.

The investigation by the Board of Governors was the fifth at UNC since the scandal broke in the summer of 2010. 

Former UNC football player Michael McAdoo spoke out Monday on the matter, saying he and other athletes did receive special treatment in an interview with the New York Times. 

McAdoo said counselors at UNC selected the AFAM studies major for him because it worked around the football team's practice schedule. 

State Bureau of Investigation agents are continuing a criminal investigation of the actions of Nyang’oro and Crowder in consultation with a local prosecutor who wants to know whether the university was defrauded by instructors who collected pay for classes they didn't teach.

Bissette said the board recognizes the credibility blow the scandal has caused for UNC. "We're hoping now that our efforts can shift to ensuring that a scandal of this nature never happens again on one of our campuses," he said.

As a result of the scandal, the panel said Thursday it will make several recommendations to help other UNC System schools to avoid similar issues. 

The group wants schools to:

  • Establish clear requirements for student-athletes to meet with their academic advisors once a year to review programs of study.
  • Review exceptional admissions policies to ensure any student admitted has demonstrated the ability to be academically successful.
  • Create an annual review by a chancellor or other designee of all faculty teaching assignments.
  • Develop a strategic plan to improve faculty engagement in athletics.
  • Develop an electronic system to track suspicious clusters of classes.