UNC system panel holds closed-door discussion of academic fraud

jstancill@newsobserver.comAugust 29, 2012 

— A UNC Board of Governors panel met for more than five hours behind closed doors Wednesday in its review of the academic fraud case that has dogged UNC-Chapel Hill.

The panel gathered briefly with reporters present, but then went into closed session, citing state law that protects confidential personnel matters, information about the performance of public employees and attorney-client privilege.

Laura Fjeld, vice president and general counsel of the UNC system’s General Administration, was present at the meeting. The review group also cited federal law protecting the privacy of student educational records.

The panel will reconvene Thursday in what is expected to be mostly open deliberation.

Wednesday’s closed door meeting no doubt included discussion of two former employees thought to be at the center of the scandal in UNC-CH’s African and Afro-American studies department — Julius Nyang’oro, a former chairman and professor who was forced to retire in July, and Deborah Crowder, a former department manager who retired in 2009.

In July, the five-member panel began its review of UNC-CH’s investigation of academic fraud in the department. The campus probe found dozens of courses, heavily enrolled with athletes, in which there was little or no faculty instruction. Those included independent study courses and no-show classes.

But more information has emerged since the panel convened, including the public disclosure this month of an academic transcript that bore the name of Julius Peppers, a former UNC football and basketball star. The transcript showed a trail of low grades in most subjects but high marks in African studies.

The UNC Board of Governors panel is one of several looking into that department as well as the broader question of whether the university has struck the proper balance between athletics and academics. The State Bureau of Investigation is probing the possibility of criminal fraud.

Earlier this month, UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp announced that former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin and a national consulting firm would conduct an audit to look for any additional academic irregularities. After the audit, Thorp said, Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, will come to campus to help assess the relationship between athletics and academics.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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