Editor’s note: The length limit on letters was waived to allow former Gov. Jim Martin to respond to several news stories, a Point of View piece, editorials and columns about his work investigating irregularities at UNC-Chapel Hill.
A football scandal in 2010 led to the first evidence of anomalous courses in the African and Afro-American Studies Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. An internal review found 54 courses that were approved and listed as lecture courses but did not meet and required only a single term paper for credit and high grades.
With support from the Baker Tilly firm, I was asked to investigate when this unethical practice began, whether other departments had engaged in similar abuses and who was involved. We answered all of those questions and more.
We found no evidence that anyone else in Afri/Afam or any other department was culpable and that the practice began in 1997, a few months after Afri/Afam studies received full departmental status. These were important findings and revealed the nature of an extensive but isolated academic fraud. Many critics object that we did not accuse football and basketball coaches and did not find any money trail implicating boosters or NFL agents, as was widely assumed.
We dug into that as far as our power allowed and reported what we found. If money was a motive, the District Attorney can find it.
Immediately, there was outrage over the fact that no evidence implicated anyone other than former Department Chair Julius Nyang’oro and administrator Deborah Crowder in creating and offering these phantom courses.
Your Dec. 21 editorial lamented that our review did not go deeper. Specifically, you complained that we did not interview Nyang’oro or Crowder. Neither did your excellent reporters. Neither you nor we had the power to compel anyone to talk, and we assumed they had legal advice against it.
Leading up to our report and immediately afterward, you issued demands that we examine term papers for plagiarism. What term papers? None is retained beyond a year.
I assumed that your conclusion was correct: that extensive plagiarism was likely. I commented that it was likely that not all of the hundreds of term papers submitted in these courses were actually read for the grades posted. We could not proofread papers that no longer exist.
On Dec. 23, you published a Point of View piece from history Professor Jay Smith. We did interview him for an hour. He provided an extensive array of leads, and we looked into each point. For some, we found solid supporting evidence, and they are in our report. Others could not be corroborated. We were tasked to find evidence, not compile a list of imagined grievances.
Moreover, Smith offered to provide witnesses, but they never came forward to support his accusations. Now he complains that we did not return for a second interview, but my judgment was that he was not a useful source.
Smith now says that he could have explained the changes in independent studies enrollments because he was associate dean for undergraduate curricula between 2004 and 2008. Ironically, those were the years when a dramatic increase in “term paper courses” erupted to levels far greater than before or since.
In retrospect, perhaps I should have asked why he was oblivious to the anomalous courses in Afri/Afam during his term of responsibility for the undergraduate curriculum. That would have had some bearing on why too many academic officials seemed to look the other way, in what was clearly an academic scandal.
You have objected to our finding that leaders of the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes (ASPSA) raised questions with the Faculty Athletic Committee in April 2002 regarding the various forms of independent studies in seven departments, including Afri/Afam. They say they were told “the faculty have wide latitude how to teach their courses.”
In checking this, you found three members of the committee who deny this was presented, only one of whom was present in April 2002. While discrediting testimony on behalf of ASPSA as self-serving, you need similar skepticism about motives of the accusers. The minutes of that meeting clearly state that this subject was discussed, and there is an appended “Report on Independent Studies.” For our part, we relied on this and four witnesses who were there and affirmed it happened, plus a later conversation with a participant who did not deny it.
We found answers to the issues we were asked to investigate. We also pursued many other issues that were brought to our attention. Lacking police power, we had to rely on those who were willing to be interviewed. With the exception of a few previously indicated, we received full cooperation from all we contacted and a number who contacted us.
What we found and reported was true and fair to all concerned. It is always possible that some truths could not be discovered because of the limitations of our authority.
Jim Martin, Former governor