Ross asks to see Nyang'oro, Crowder emails with UNC athletic counselors

dkane@newsobserver.com jstancill@newsobserver.comJune 14, 2013 

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

HARRY LYNCH — Harry Lynch

UNC President Tom Ross said Friday he wants to review the email correspondence that shows a cozy relationship between the tutoring program for athletes at UNC-Chapel Hill and the former department chairman who was involved in creating dozens of bogus classes that helped keep them eligible to play sports.

At a news conference after a closed session of the UNC system Board of Governors’ regular meeting, Ross said he was unaware of the contents of the correspondence until it was reported Sunday by The News & Observer. He said he requested the correspondence from the university and would not draw any conclusions until he had seen it. But he did say he was concerned about why UNC-CH officials took so long to make it public.

“I’m interested in getting information about it, learning what the facts are about what happened, about why there was a delay in the delivery of the information,” Ross said. “And so when I have that I will be in a better position to determine my emotions about it.”

Board Chairman Peter Hans said he was unaware of the correspondence until UNC-CH officials released it to The N&O last week. The N&O had requested the information nearly a year before its release this month.

The board had appointed a special panel to review the internal and external investigations into the long-running academic fraud. The panel’s chairman, Asheville attorney Louis Bissette, said Friday that he had seen some of the emails but not all of them. He was not specific.

“We’re trying to sort through that and see what’s there and what’s not and whether it would change any of our findings,” he said.

On Sunday, the N&O reported the emails between Julius Nyang’oro, the longtime chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies department, and counselors in the tutoring program showed that they had given him tickets to three football games and requested that he repeat an intermediate Swahili class in a no-show format. The correspondence was laced with banter and often punctuated with smiley-face emoticons.

UNC-CH officials said this week that tickets to one game came courtesy of a long-running “guest coaching” program meant to acquaint faculty with the “athlete experience.” The tickets to the other games were part of the football program’s THANKS program, which stands for Tailgate Honoring and Acknowledging your Never-ending Kindness and Support. Records show roughly 25 professors received tickets through the THANKS program, many of them in departments that have high concentrations of football-player enrollments.

Other correspondence involving Nyang’oro’s longtime department manager, Deborah Crowder, who retired in September 2009, showed a tutor asked her to approve detailed “topic” pages for athletes that suggest improper academic help, and that she had become worried about students flocking to the department’s independent studies, which had become a vehicle for some of the bogus classes.

The Nyang’oro and Crowder emails drew national attention to the university’s handling of the scandal, including a story in USA Today and criticism from national sports writers.

The university’s internal investigation and a probe it commissioned that was led by former Gov. Jim Martin concluded the academic fraud was not an athletic scandal because nonathletes were in the classes and received the same grades. Martin said he found no evidence of academic counselors for athletes collaborating with Nyang’oro or Crowder, or that athletic department officials were involved.

The two probes did find more than 200 suspected or confirmed bogus classes, and more than 500 unauthorized grade changes with disproportionate numbers of athletes involved. The bogus classes stretched back to the mid-1990s. Nyang’oro headed the African studies department from 1992 until he retired last year.

Ross’ request for the emails adds another complication to the Board of Governors’ review. The board had a special panel reviewing the various investigations, and it produced a draft report that largely backed UNC-CH’s and Martin’s findings. But the report drew criticism from some board members, particularly Burley Mitchell, a former N.C. Supreme Court chief justice, who said it was inconceivable that the fraud involved only Nyang’oro and Crowder.

Hans said he will not make a final report available to the board until an SBI investigation into the fraud is completed. Many of the current members of the board will have served their terms and stepped off by then, including two members on the special panel.

Kane: 919-829-4861

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