UNC-Chapel Hill might take action against Julius Nyang'oro

Nyang’oro’s handling of summer class at issue

dkane@newsobserver.comMay 11, 2012 

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

HARRY LYNCH — Harry Lynch

Last summer, UNC-Chapel Hill professor Julius Nyang’oro received $12,000 to teach AFAM 280 – Blacks in North Carolina. The 19 students enrolled in the course were to learn about the state’s legacy of slavery and racism, and how blacks fought to overcome it.

It is a course that typically involved classroom lectures, research papers and exams, according to syllabi from other UNC-CH professors who taught it. Nyang’oro, the department’s chairman, was expected to teach it that way as well, university officials said.

But Nyang’oro did not hold classes or require any exams. His one-page syllabus said that because of the “compact nature” of the summer schedule, the students would spend that time largely on their own to find one or two black leaders in North Carolina to be the subject of a research paper due at the end of the session.

Now, university officials say they may seek action against Nyang’oro for not teaching a class as they had anticipated. The move comes after The News & Observer inquired about summer school payments to Nyang’oro.

“Through our review, we learned that Professor Nyang’oro provided instruction for a course in independent study format that had been approved to be taught in lecture format,” said Nancy Davis, a UNC-CH spokeswoman. “Had the Summer School been aware that he was treating it as independent study, he would not have been paid for the course. We are reviewing appropriate next steps.”

The summer school payment is the latest development in what appears to be the biggest case of academic fraud at UNC-CH in decades. An internal probe released late last week found 54 classes within the African studies department in which there was little or no indication of instruction. The probe also found at least 10 cases of unauthorized grade changes involving students who had not completed their course work or a final exam before the class ended.

Nyang’oro is the instructor of record for 45 of those classes, and university officials say they follow the same pattern: A course typically intended for classroom instruction was converted into an independent study format, which meant no classes and an expectation that a paper or other project would be produced at the end.

In the other nine classes, university officials could not determine who was supposed to teach them, and found no evidence of classroom instruction. Professors who were listed as instructors said their names were forged on grade rolls for the courses. The unauthorized grade changes also stem from those classes.

“All of that is deeply troubling,” said Wade Hargrove, chairman of UNC-CH’s board of trustees. “My concern at this point is making sure that measures are in place to prevent these things from ever happening again at this university.”

The 45 classes represent nearly two-thirds of the 75 classes that Nyang’oro was listed as teaching from the summer of 2007 through the summer of 2011, the period that UNC academic officials examined.

Nyang’oro could not be reached. He resigned as chairman as the internal probe began, and when it was released, the university announced he was retiring effective July 1.

The summer pay is given to professors for teaching classes outside the normal spring and fall semesters. Professors have to get those courses approved by the university before teaching them. The summer sessions last roughly a month, so classes typically meet more often and for longer periods of time to cover the material.

Nyang’oro received $120,000 in summer school pay during the four-year period that was under review. University officials say the other eight summer school courses he taught were in a classroom setting and are not in question. They were all introductory courses offered by the African studies department. He was paid $8,400 for being a summer school administrator for three sessions, university records said.

The pay was in addition to his annual salary, which reached $171,000 last year before he stepped down as chairman. That knocked his pay down to $159,000.

The internal investigation said the only other person who may have been involved in the academic improprieties is Nyang’oro’s former administrative secretary, Deborah Crowder, who retired in September 2009 after 30 years with the university. She made roughly $36,000 a year. She has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

The AFAM 280 class reopens questions as to whether additional investigation is needed. University officials last fall contacted law enforcement because of the forgery allegations. Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said the evidence in that respect did not appear to be enough to launch a criminal investigation, partly because there did not appear to be a financial motive, and there isn’t much of a paper or electronic trail to follow.

“But,” he said, “if there were some payments for a teacher teaching classes that were not taught, well, that would be a different issue.”

Nyang’oro, 57, was the African studies department’s first chairman, taking over in 1992 after teaching at the university the previous eight years. He has won two notable teaching awards during his tenure as chairman.

But questions regarding his teaching began to surface in July, when a paper written by Michael McAdoo, a football player caught up in a major NCAA probe into impermissible financial and academic benefits, became public. The paper on Swahili culture included numerous passages of plagiarism that weren’t caught until rival N.C. State University fans reviewed it.

Nyang’oro was listed as the professor of that class, which was taught in the summer of 2009. In the internal probe’s report, he said he did not teach the class, and suggested that a former “department manager,” who was not identified, may have helped make that course and others available.

Nyang’oro did not catch the plagiarism, nor did NCAA or UNC officials. The internal probe identifies it as one of the nine in which there’s no evidence of instruction.

Chancellor Holden Thorp initially stood by Nyang’oro after the plagiarism surfaced. But then a partial academic transcript, obtained by The News & Observer, of another football player caught up in the NCAA investigations raised more questions, prompting the internal investigation.

Marvin Austin’s transcript showed that he took an upper level class taught by Nyang’oro in the summer of 2007. It was the first class Austin, a highly-prized recruit, took at the university. He received a B-plus. The internal probe now identifies it as one of the 45 classes in which Nyang’oro performed little or no instruction.

Football players and basketball players accounted for 39 percent of the 686 enrollments in the 54 suspect classes. Football players alone accounted for 36 percent of the enrollments. Non-student athletes accounted for 42 percent of the enrollments; the rest are student athletes in non-revenue-producing sports.

But university officials say student athletes and non-student athletes were treated equally when it came to the no-show classes and unauthorized grade changes. Figures released Thursday show four non-student athletes received them along with three football players and three other student athletes who are not in revenue-generating sports.

The investigation showed no motive for the improprieties, but did say the department was poorly run, which made it difficult to piece together what had happened. The university has set new policies and procedures to provide better oversight and record-keeping, as well as tougher academic standards for independent study classes.

University officials say there is no evidence of a concerted effort to help student athletes with easy grades so they could remain eligible to play. But Hargrove said there are legitimate concerns about the lack of recognition of a problem among athletic officials who are supposed to closely monitor student-athletes’ academic progress.

“There is going to be a heightened level of oversight to the integrity of the academic requirements throughout the university and the academic performance of students, including athletes,” he said.

Kane: 919-829-4861

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