UNC professor resigns academic chairman post

He will remain on faculty but not as department head amid an academic integrity investigation.

Staff WriterSeptember 2, 2011 

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UNC professor Julius Nyang'oro, chairman of UNC-CH African and Afro-American studies.

HARRY LYNCH — 2000 N&O file photo

A UNC-Chapel Hill department chairman at the center of questions regarding academic integrity within the university's football program has resigned from the position, university officials said Thursday.

UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp said in a statement that Julius Nyang'oro, who headed the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, has resigned as the university looks at "possible irregularities with courses that included undergraduate students."

"Because academic integrity is paramount, we have every obligation to get to the bottom of these issues," Thorp said.

UNC officials said the irregularities involved student-athletes and other students. They declined to provide further details.

Nyang'oro will continue to teach at the university. His salary will be reduced $12,000 to $159,000.

The university said that it had notified the NCAA of the resignation and the possible irregularities, but said no student-athletes would be held out of games.

The resignation follows reports in The News & Observer that raised questions about Nyang'oro's connections to football players and the athletic department.

Last week, The N&O reported that Nyang'oro had hired a sports agent to teach a summer class this year without telling his boss, Arts and Sciences Dean Karen Gil, about the agent's profession. The sports agent, Carl Carey Jr., who earned his doctorate at UNC-CH and had served as an adviser to football players there, was representing two football players at the time he taught the class. No football players took the class, according to the athletic department.

Nyang'oro's handling of two football players who took his classes also has drawn attention. He missed a blatant case of plagiarism in a paper submitted by one football player, Michael McAdoo, who was later given an F in the class by the university's honor court.

His department allowed incoming freshman Marvin Austin, a prized recruit, to take a 400-level class taught by Nyang'oro before Austin had taken introductory classes that included a remedial writing class. Austin received a B plus.

Both football players were kicked off the team last year as part of an NCAA investigation into academic misconduct and impermissible benefits from sports agents and their go-betweens. Carey is not among the agents found to have given players illegal gifts.

Allegations of NCAA violations include an assistant coach taking money from an agent, a former UNC football player whom the NCAA considers an agent with access to players in the weight room, and numerous athletes accepting trips, parties and other perks from agents. That inquiry into impermissible benefits and academic misconduct forced 14 players to miss at least one game last season, and seven sat out the entire season.

In July, Thorp fired football coach Butch Davis and accepted the retirement of Athletic Director Dick Baddour. UNC-CH has until Sept. 19 to respond to an NCAA notice of allegations, and is scheduled to appear before the association's infractions committee on Oct. 28.

After McAdoo's plagiarism was discovered by N.C. State University fans, and confirmed by The N&O, Thorp acknowledged that the university had missed it. But he continued to stand behind Nyang'oro, calling him a "great colleague."

Thorp was Nyang'oro's supervisor as dean of the Arts and Sciences college from July 2007 to May 2008, when Thorp became chancellor.

According to an academic resume, Nyang'oro began teaching at UNC-CH in 1984 as a visiting professor. He was hired as a professor six years later and became chairman of African and Afro-American studies in 1992.

His resume lists two teaching honors - one from undergraduate students for the 1990-91 academic year, and the outstanding faculty award from the Class of 2000 - and four pages of published books and articles.

Before the resignation, James Peacock, a UNC-CH anthropology professor and former faculty chairman, called Nyang'oro "one of the finest human beings and teachers and administrators whom I have ever known. Period. I don't really know anything about the situation with the plagiarism and all the rest, but whatever he has done in that area, and I don't know anything about it, should be balanced (with) his superb contributions in so many other ways."

Nyang'oro, 56, has a law degree from Duke University, and master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Miami, according to his resume. He received his bachelor's degree from a university in Tanzania. As chairman, he oversaw a staff of 22.

Nyang'oro had not responded to numerous requests for interviews over several weeks. Reached at his office Thursday, he declined to comment and referred a reporter to the university administration.

Thorp said professor Evelyne Huber will serve as the interim chairman for the African and Afro-American studies department. She is also chairman of the political science department.

Staff writer Ken Tysiac and news researcher David Raynor contributed.

dan.kane@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4861

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