UNC report on academic fraud released, employees disciplined

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Thursday, October 23, 2014
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UNC-Chapel Hill released the report by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein on his investigation of alleged academic fraud involving student athletes Wednesday.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- UNC-Chapel Hill released the report by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein on his investigation of alleged academic fraud involving student athletes Wednesday.


Wainstein has spent months looking at various academic irregularities, including so-called "paper classes" within the African-American [AFAM] studies department where students did not attend classes and turned in a paper for a grade at the end of the semester.

The report found the classes did exist for 18 years on campus and student athletes were steered into the classes by their academic advisors to keep them eligible to play.

"It was a wrongdoing that could have and should have been stopped much earlier," said Chancellor Carol Folt.

While the report did not find coaches were involved, Folt said it was clearly both an athletic and academic problem.

Folt said employees who are still with the university and who have been directly implicated will be held accountable. Nine employees have been fired or disciplined and honorary status has been removed from another.

Another employee who formerly worked at the university and now works at another school within the North Carolina system also faces disciplinary action.

Folt did not name names, citing confidentiality.

Wainstein's report blames two people within the African Studies department for offering a "shadow curriculum" of "hundreds of irregular classes at UNC-Chapel Hill between 1993 and 2011." They are former department chairman Julius Nyang'oro and former student services manager Deborah Crowder.

The report says Crowder, a non-faculty administrator, managed the classes and graded the papers.

The report says: "When Crowder graded the papers, she did so generously - typically with As or high Bs - and largely without regard to the quality of the papers. The result was that thousands of Chapel Hill students received high grades, a large number of whom did not earn those high grades with high quality work."

"In a number of cases, students submitted papers with original introductions and conclusions, but with copied 'fluff' text in between, because they knew that Crowder typically just skimmed the beginning and the end of a paper before awarding a high grade," reads the report.

As to why Crowder and Nyang'oro allegedly did it, the report says "both felt sympathy for under-prepared students who struggled with the demanding Chapel Hill curriculum. Crowder felt a strong affinity for student-athletes in particular, and she gave them ready access to these watered-down classes to help them manage their competing athletic and academic time demands."

The report also says both Crowder and Nyang'oro wanted to help the UNC sports program - of which they were both fans - particularly the men's basketball and football teams.

"Nyang'oro followed the teams and went to the occasional men's basketball or football game during his tenure at Chapel Hill. He was far from passionate about the teams, however, and maintains that his fan loyalty had little bearing on his decision to offer the paper classes. Crowder, by contrast, was a very passionate Chapel Hill sports fan, and she has close personal ties to Chapel Hill athletics, with her closest friend having been ASPSA basketball counselor Burgess McSwain and her companion being a former Tar Heels basketball player," reads the report.

Click to watch Larry Stogner's interview with Wainstein.

The report also says both Crowder and Nyang'oro believed the paper classes had the approval of the UNC administration.

"Both Crowder and Nyang'oro indicated their belief that the Chapel Hill administration wanted them to provide this assistance to the student-athletes. When we asked about the basis for this belief, both cited the administration's inaction throughout the years as evidence of its acquiescence in the classes. In addition, Nyang'oro cited several comments he received over the years from administrators and faculty suggesting an awareness and approval of the AFAM Department's efforts on behalf of student-athletes," reads the report.

The report says there was little or no financial incentive for Crowder and Nyang'oro to offer the classes. Nyang'oro did get extra money for teaching some classes.

Over the 18-year period, the paper classes involved 3,100 students. Student-athletes accounted for 47.6 percent of them.

The inflated grades from the paper classes made a big difference to student GPAs. On average, they got a .03 grade point boost. For a number of them, it was the difference they needed to reach the 2.0 threshold. 329 students got an increase that pushed them above that level, and for 81, it was the difference that allowed them to graduate.

The report says many of the student-athletes, particularly those in the "revenue" sports of basketball and football, were directed to the classes by academic counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes who "were always under pressure to maintain student-athlete eligibility and saw these classes - and their artificially high grades - as key to helping academically-challenged student-athletes remain eligible and on the playing field."

The report goes on to say academic advisors in the "Office of Academic Advising also directed non-athlete students to the courses and various University personnel were aware of red flags, yet did not ask questions. There was a failure of meaningful oversight by the University."

While no coaches were directly implicated by the report, it says former Athletic Director Dickie Baddour was aware something wasn't right, but didn't dig into it. It also alleges former football head coach Butch Davis was told about the classes at a 2009 meeting, but he told investigators he doesn't recall the meeting or being told.

The report says former Chancellor Holden Thorp "believed UNC was above an academic scandal."

The report says: "Although Nyang'oro acquiesced in Crowder's paper class scheme and facilitated it in a number of ways, Crowder was the one who coordinated it. When Crowder retired from the University in 2009, and she was no longer in position to arrange these classes, under-prepared students and student-athletes began to struggle to maintain academic eligibility. At the request of ASPSA football counselors, Nyang'oro offered several classes after Crowder's retirement that followed a similar format and were equally lacking in academic rigor."

Former student athletes have claimed tutors wrote term papers for them and they rarely attended class. Former North Carolina basketball star Rashad McCants told ESPN earlier this year that he remained able to play largely because he took bogus classes designed to keep athletes academically eligible.

But the Wainstein report says while McCants made that claim, investigators spoke with a number of student athletes who all said they drafted their own papers and tutor assistance was limited to general suggestions and corrections. The report also says McCants did not cooperate with the investigation.

However, the report says nine tutors did cross the line in giving assistance writing the papers for the AFAM classes.

The report says while the classes purported to teach Swahili, some athletes couldn't even say "hello" in the language after two semesters. Crowder let athletes write their papers in English.

In July, Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said he agreed to drop a charge against Julius Nyang'oro in exchange for his cooperation in the ongoing investigation.

UNC's problems first began in 2010 when it announced it was looking into allegations of plagiarism, tutors who violated rules, faculty who failed to provide oversight, alleged unethical conduct by an assistant coach, and allegations that players got perks from professional sports agents.

The NCAA said the school was "responsible for multiple violations, including academic fraud, impermissible agent benefits, ineligible participation, and a failure to monitor its football program."

Penalties imposed by the association included a one-year postseason ban, a reduction of 15 football scholarships, vacation of records, and three years' probation.

The NCAA recently announced it has reopened its investigation. UNC said Wainstein was instructed to "share relevant information directly and confidentially with the NCAA."

In a joint statement Wednesday, the NCAA and UNC said a copy of Wainstein's report has been turned over.

"The information included in the Wainstein Report will be reviewed by the university and the enforcement staff under the same standards that are applied in all NCAA infractions cases. Due to rules put in place by the NCAA membership, neither the university nor the enforcement staff will comment on the substance of the report as it relates to possible NCAA rules violations," read the statement.

UNC says it has already taken major steps towards making sure future violations do not occur. UNC President Tom Ross said he expects Chancellor Folt to "build on earlier reforms."

"I will work closely with her and with the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and the UNC Board of Governors to take what we've learned and ensure that Carolina emerges a stronger university dedicated to our students and our state," he said.

Folt said she is committed to the goal.

Click to watch Larry Stogner's interview with Folt.

"Our core mission as an institution is academics. I believe we can also offer strong and successful athletics programs, and that in fact athletics advances our academic mission. While we accept full responsibility for the past, the wind is in our sails for the future because our students, faculty and staff are so strong," she said.

Wainstein said his team went through records going back to the 1980s, including 1.6 million emails during the course of the investigation and spoke with 126 people.

The report says it is impossible to positively determine the number of students who benefited from the paper classes because "at the end of each semester, the grades were collected from all professors who had independent studies students, and Crowder entered all grades on the grade sheet without distinguishing between those students who were taking independent study paper classes under Nyang'oro from those who were taking legitimate independent studies."

The report does not name "at least three members of the AFAM faculty - besides Nyang'oro - [who] had some knowledge of the paper class scheme and took actions that assisted or facilitated the paper class scheme."

The report says there were "several administrators [who] were aware of red flags about potential irregularities in AFAM but took little or no action to inquire about them. For example, one administrator became aware in 2005 or 2006 that Nyang'oro was routinely listed as the instructor-of-record for a number of independent studies - approximately 300 per year - that was clearly well beyond what any professor could physically handle."

Gov. Pat McCrory issued the following statement about the UNC report:

"The finding of academic fraud is a disturbing reminder of what can happen, even at our flagship university, when we misplace priorities and have a lack of oversight. It is imperative that we ensure there is accountability at all of our universities to make sure we are upholding a culture in which students, parents and taxpayers are getting a return on our most important investment: education. I'm again reminded of the words of former UNC system president Dr. William Friday, 'People do not want their lifetime measured by how much their football team won or lost. There is something valuable they want measured on their intellectual tombstone when the time comes, and it will come.' Dr. Friday words still ring true today. I look forward to working with Chancellor Folt and all the chancellors to maintain North Carolina's devotion to excellence in higher education."

Click to watch Joe Mazur's report on the athletic department's reaction.

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