UNC football players flocked to suspect class

Football players took class that didn’t meet

dkane@newsobserver.comJune 8, 2012 

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HARRY LYNCH — Harry Lynch

A summer class at UNC-Chapel Hill that lacked any instruction was enrolled exclusively with football players – and it landed on the school calendar just days before the semester started, university records show.

The records show that in the summer of 2011, 19 students enrolled in AFAM 280: Blacks in North Carolina, 18 of them players on the football team, the other a former player. They also show that academic advisers assigned to athletes helped the players enroll in the class, which is the subject of a criminal investigation.

The advisers also knew that there would be no instruction.

Other records show that football and basketball players made up a majority of the enrollments of nine particularly suspect classes in which the professors listed as instructors have denied involvement, and have claimed that signatures were forged on records related to them.

The new information is more evidence that student athletes, particularly football players, were being steered to classes that university officials now say are evidence of academic fraud because there was little or no instruction. An internal review found 54 such classes, and said all but nine of them were taught by Julius Nyang’oro, the longtime chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies Department. In each case, students were given an assignment such as a term paper and told to turn it in at the end of the semester.

UNC officials released the information in response to a records request by The News & Observer. Before making it public, Chancellor Holden Thorp sent a letter to trustees on Thursday.

“While it appears that academic support staff (for student athletes) were aware that Professor Nyang’oro didn’t intend to teach the class as a standard lecture course, they knew that the students would be required to write a 15-page paper,” Thorp said in the letter. “They saw no reason to question the faculty member’s choice of course format.”

The academic support staff reports to the university’s College of Arts & Sciences, but is housed in the Athletic Department’s student support center within Kenan Stadium.

Thorp could not be reached for comment. In a statement, he said the findings on the class are troubling.

“Anytime you have a class consisting solely of student-athletes, it raises questions,” he said.

Bubba Cunningham, the new athletic director hired after the scandal, said he is also concerned.

“I just think this has uncovered some information that quite frankly, the university, we’re not proud of,” he said in an interview. “But we’ll continue to work to ensure that it doesn’t happen going forward.”

‘Taken by surprise’

The criminal investigation of the AFAM 280 class came after The N&O requested records related to summer pay Nyang’oro might have received in relation to the suspect classes. Nyang’oro received summer pay only for the AFAM 280 class last summer, and it was the standard amount: $12,000.

Thorp told trustees that the university is trying to get that money back. Thorp said Nyang’oro signed a contract that made it clear the class was to be taught in a lecture format, but he treated it as an independent study.

“Students in the class wrote papers and were graded,” Thorp said in the letter. “Nevertheless, Nyang’oro did not meet the University’s instructional expectations, and we do not believe that he should have been paid.”

Trustees either declined comment or couldn’t be reached Friday.

Email correspondence released Friday shows that Nyang’oro went to a professor in his department, Tim McMillan, on June 14 to add AFAM 280 to the summer calendar. McMillan normally teaches the class.

“Sure,” McMillan replied. “How many students will I have?”

“No more than 5,” Nyang’oro responded. “I will be Instructor of record and relieve you of responsibility and bother. A big relief for you?????”

Nyang’oro then talked to Jan Yopp, a journalism professor who also serves as dean for the summer school. On June 16, the day the summer semester began, Yopp sent a notice to Nyang’oro that the class was open for registration.

Four days later, Nyang’oro told her 18 students had enrolled in the class. It makes no mention that all were football players.

“I am totally taken by surprise!” Nyang’oro wrote.

Two years of trouble

Nyang’oro resigned as chairman of the department in September as the university launched an investigation into independent studies and other classes in his department. The university announced last month as it disclosed the academic improprieties that Nyang’oro would retire as of July 1. He had been the department’s sole chairman and had earned as much as $171,000 a year.

Nyang’oro could not be reached for comment. He has declined to comment on the case in the past.

The new information is another revelation in a case that started two years ago with an NCAA investigation into improper financial and academic benefits for football players. The NCAA investigation resulted in a one-year bowl game ban for the upcoming season, and the loss of five football scholarships per year for the next three academic years. The university is also on probation during that period.

The NCAA investigation cost football coach Butch Davis his job, and hastened the planned retirement of former athletic director Dick Baddour. Davis, through his attorney, has said he had no knowledge of Nyang’oro’s connection to his players, and did not learn of his name until the academic improprieties began to emerge in July.

By then, the NCAA investigation had largely ended. UNC officials launched the subsequent internal review after The N&O obtained a partial transcript for Marvin Austin, one of several football players banned from the team for taking impermissible benefits. The transcript for Austin, a prized recruit, showed he had taken an upper-level class within the department during the summer of 2007. He had yet to take his first full semester at the university, and when he did, it was a slate of introductory level classes that included remedial writing.

Austin received a B-plus on the summer class, and records identified Nyang’oro as the instructor. University officials now say it is among the 54 classes in which there was little instruction.

Records released Friday show that of 41 enrollments in the class, 22 were student athletes. Of those, 13 were football players and one was a men’s basketball player.

A small minority

University officials have stressed that the 54 classes were a small minority of the department’s offerings during the four-year period reviewed. They say the evidence shows only two people appeared to have played a part in the no-show classes and unauthorized grade changes: Nyang’oro and his administrative assistant, Deborah Crowder, who retired in 2009. She declined to talk to university officials investigating the improprieties, and has been unavailable for comment.

Nancy Davis, a spokeswoman for the university, and Jonathan Hartlyn, a senior associate dean who oversees the African studies department and conducted the internal review, continued to stress that non-athletes also took the suspect classes and received the same treatment grade-wise. Records show 42 percent of the enrollments were non-athletes.

But they also noted the university contacted the NCAA when they became aware of what happened with the summer class. The NCAA has yet to say anything about the academic fraud case.

It is unclear how the students – athletes and non-athletes – ended up in the classes. Hartlyn interviewed students for the probe, along with Jack Evans, a professor who had been a liaison to the athletic department, and University Counsel Leslie Strohm. Hartlyn declined to say what students said.

Staff writer Jane Stancill contributed to this report.

Kane: 919-829-4861

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