UNC promises major changes in wake of academic scandal

jstancill@newsobserver.comAugust 31, 2012 


UNC defensive end Julius Peppers (center) on the bench during the Tar Heels loss to FSU in 2000.

SCOTT SHARPE — 2000 News & Observer file photo

— UNC-Chapel Hill leaders on Thursday promised different ways of doing business to prevent academic misconduct related to student athletes, including a new name for the beleaguered African and Afro-American Studies department.

Some of the changes had already been announced; other initiatives were new. But the goal was clear — deans, faculty members, department heads and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham lined up to convince a UNC Board of Governors review panel that they would do whatever it takes to recover from perhaps the campus’ worst academic and athletic scandal.

They pledged more faculty involvement in athletics, a revamped African studies department, new oversight rules for academic administrators, changes to the tutoring program for athletes and a strategic plan for the university’s entire sports enterprise.

The panel from UNC system board is just one of several entities looking into the problems. Former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin is leading an independent review to determine whether other academic irregularities occurred.

UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp said he met with Martin on Tuesday and told him he is free to examine any data and talk with faculty, staff and students as he deems necessary. Martin will work with Baker Tilly, a national consulting firm, which also is taking a separate look at UNC-CH’s academic procedures and controls.

The UNC system panel spent Wednesday and Thursday reviewing the campus’ handling of academic fraud in the African and Afro-American Studies department.

An internal campus review found 54 courses in that department, many heavily attended by athletes, that were no-show classes with little or no faculty supervision. Many courses were linked to former department chairman Julius Nyang’oro, who retired under pressure this summer, and to Deborah Crowder, a former department manager who left the university in 2009.

On Wednesday, the panel met behind closed doors for much of the day. One board member, Jim Diehl, suggested Thursday that too much power was in the hands of Crowder.

Integrity ‘didn’t happen’

Karen Gil, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the university would intensify its review of department chairmen, who previously had little oversight.

“The college depended on our department chair and our manager to do their jobs and do them with integrity,” Gil said. “It didn’t happen.”

Other policy changes and reforms are meant to beef up oversight of independent study courses, teaching assignments, summer school courses and other areas.

For example, from now on in the African studies department, only majors with at least a 3.0 grade point average will be able to take independent study courses. All faculty syllabi will be reviewed by administrators to ensure appropriate rigor.

“Please know that faculty and staff members share your concerns about the unethical practices,” said the new department chairwoman, Eunice Sahle.

The department is changing its curriculum and its name, Sahle said. It will be called African, African American and Diaspora Studies, she said, which denotes its worldwide focus.

Beyond the African studies department, reforms will focus on the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes. A national search is under way for a new director for the program, which Thorp said would report only to the academic side of the university.

The university is also considering expanding its Summer Bridge program, which guides first-year students who may need help adjusting academically to college life. A version of that program may be adapted for first-year athletes, to give them a leg up on their academic experience.

Pressure on athletes

Cunningham, the athletic director, said the university has 720 student-athletes in 28 sports. Among the upperclassmen, he said, 34 different academic majors were represented. Two majored in African and Afro-American studies. No matter their major, he said, all face major time pressure in balancing their classroom and athletic demands.

The athletic director said there is room for athletics and academics to thrive alongside each other if they are integrated and done “in the right way.” It’s not a tradeoff, he said.

“We’re going to educate and inspire through athletics,” Cunningham said. “That’s our fundamental mission.”

The UNC system panel is expected to meet with Martin, the former governor, in the coming weeks to find out what he uncovered.

Once those reviews are complete, Thorp said, another effort will examine the broader question of whether the university has struck the proper balance between athletics and academics. That will be led by Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities and former president of the University of Iowa and Cornell University.

Thorp reiterated his promise to clean up the situation once and for all. It’s a promise he’s made over and over.

“I am determined that we will fix this and that it will never happen again,” he said. “Nothing is more important than restoring confidence in this university that we all love.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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