UNC players made up 39 percent of suspect classes

Nearly 40% in certain UNC courses played football or basketball

dkane@newsobserver.comMay 7, 2012 

Football and basketball players accounted for nearly four of every 10 students enrolled in 54 classes at the heart of an academic fraud investigation at UNC-Chapel Hill, according to figures released Monday.

The classes were all within UNC’s Department of African and Afro-American studies. An internal probe released Friday produced evidence of unauthorized grade changes and little or no instruction by professors. Forty-five of the classes listed the department’s chairman, Julius Nyang’oro, as the professor. Investigators could not determine instructors for the remaining nine.

University officials say they found no evidence that the suspect classes were part of a plan between Nyang’oro and the athletic department to create classes that student-athletes could pass so they could maintain their eligibility. They said student-athletes were treated no differently in the classes than students who were not athletes.

But the high percentages of student-athletes in the classes suggest to some that academic advisers, tutors and others in the athletic department may have guided them to the classes.

“These kids are putting in enormous amounts of time, and in at least some of the sports that are very physically demanding, they are missing a number of classes because of conflicts, and then if they are a marginal student to begin with, you’ve got to send them to Professor Nyang’oro’s class,” said former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr. “I think the academic counselors realized that and the tutors recognized it and frankly the folks up the food chain for the most part recognized it. But nobody wants to rock the boat because it’s big money.”

Orr, now an attorney, helped restore a UNC football player’s eligibility to play amid the NCAA’s probe into financial and academic benefits to members of the football team. The internal academic probe is an offshoot of that investigation.

There were 686 enrollments for the 54 suspect classes. Of those, football players accounted for 246 of the enrollments, or 36 percent, while basketball players accounted for 23 enrollments, or three percent, according to UNC. Together, football and basketball players accounted for 39 percent of the enrollments.

Football and basketball players account for less than one percent of the total undergraduate enrollment – about 120 of the more than 18,500 undergraduate students on campus. On the other hand, many of the suspect classes were held in the summer, a time when many football players are on campus.

Austin case spurred probe

The internal investigation started after The News & Observer obtained the academic transcript of former football player Marvin Austin, who was kicked off the team after the NCAA probe found he had received improper financial benefits from a sports agent. Austin’s transcript showed he had been placed in an upper-level African studies class taught by Nyang’oro in the summer of 2007. At that point, Austin had yet to begin his first full semester as a freshman, and he had not taken a required remedial writing class.

Nyang’oro gave Austin a B-plus in the 400-level class. The university has been unable to explain how Austin ended up in the class. He could not be reached for comment. UNC’s investigation determined it was one of the suspect classes in which there was little evidence that the instructor did much if any teaching.

Questions regarding Nyang’oro’s instruction started after another football player kicked off the team, Michael McAdoo, had made public a class paper that got him in trouble. N.C. State University fans found several plagiarized passages that the university and the NCAA did not catch.

The investigation covered courses offered within the department from summer 2007 to summer 2011, though all but two of the classes were offered from 2007 to 2009. UNC officials said the only two people within the department who appear to have been responsible for the suspect classes were Nyang’oro and his administrative secretary, Deborah Crowder. Some professors interviewed for the probe said they did not authorize grade changes that students taking the classes had received and said their names had been forged on academic records.

Crowder retired in September 2009 and declined requests for interviews by the investigators. Nyang’oro stepped down as chairman last September when the investigation was in its early stages. He is retiring July 1. Investigators found no evidence showing Nyang’oro or Crowder received any financial benefit from offering the suspect classes or for unauthorized grade changes that students received.

Neither Nyang’oro nor Crowder has publicly commented on the report.

On Friday, university officials couldn’t say why no one brought the suspect classes to their attention before last summer. The two UNC academic officials who conducted the probe, Jonathan Hartlyn and William Andrews, did not interview students for the report. But Nancy Davis, a university spokeswoman, said the university’s counsel, Leslie Strohm, and its former faculty athletics representative, Jack Evans, did talk to students. Those interviews were not reflected in the report.

Ross: Situation resolved

On Monday, Tom Ross, the UNC system president, said in a statement that he saw no need to look further into the academic improprieties.

“I believe that this was an isolated situation and that the campus has taken appropriate steps to correct problems and put additional safeguards in place,” Ross said.

Hannah Gage, chairman of the UNC system’s Board of Governors, said she would not know if the board would be seeking more information until she had talked to others.

Kane: 919-829-4861

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