6 reviews and investigations have looked into UNC African studies department

dkane@newsobserver.comDecember 2, 2013 

The State Bureau of Investigation’s probe that led to Julius E. Nyang’oro’s indictment Monday is one of at least six official reviews or investigations into the long-standing academic fraud within UNC-Chapel Hill’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies.

But despite all the digging, some at considerable expense to the university, two years’ worth of investigations have yet to nail down what caused the fraud in the first place.

Here’s a summary of each probe, with what it did and didn’t do:

UNC’s internal probe: This began in August 2011, after The News & Observer published a report showing football player Marvin Austin had received a B-plus in an upper-level African studies class the summer before he began his first full semester as a freshman. It was launched as the N&O requested information related to classes that didn’t meet but only required a paper to be written.

What it found: The internal probe determined that over the past five years, at least 54 lecture-style courses appeared to have little or no instruction. Nine of those classes listed instructors who said they had nothing to do with the classes, and that related records with their handwriting were forged.

What it didn’t address: The probe said there was no athletic motive behind the scandal because non-athletes had equal access and received the same grades. But it did not disclose the heavy involvement of athletes in the classes. Records later showed that athletes accounted for nearly two-thirds of the enrollments during that period; one class from the summer of 2011 was created within days of the start of the semester and filled with football players.

UNC Faculty Executive Committee report: This report was released in July 2012 in response to faculty concerns about the scandal.

What it found: It detailed concerns that counselors in the tutoring program for athletes were steering them to the no-show classes. It also cited an unhealthy separation between academics and athletics at the university.

What it didn’t address: Correspondence obtained in a public records request showed that earlier versions of the report raised concerns that Deborah Crowder, the longtime African studies department manager, might have been helping athletes enroll in the classes because she had “extremely close” ties to athletics. Faculty leader Jan Boxill, a former counselor in the athlete tutoring program, requested that information be removed from the report just before it was released. Boxill said she was trying to remove “innuendos” from the report.

Former Gov. Jim Martin’s report: UNC brought in Martin, a former chemistry professor at Davidson College, to conduct a probe after the N&O reported evidence that the scandal went back at least into the 1990s. UNC also hired the Baker Tilly consulting firm to assist Martin.

What it found: More than 200 suspected or confirmed no-show classes going as far back to 1994, which was as far as could be tracked with the data available. The report said the confirmed no-shows began in the fall of 1997. But Martin said the scandal was not about athletics because non-athletes accounted for 55 percent of the enrollments. He also said athletic officials had raised questions about high numbers of independent studies within the department but were told by a faculty committee not to be concerned.

What it didn’t address: No individual transcripts were reviewed, and only a few students were interviewed. No athletic enrollments in the earliest classes were disclosed. None of the faculty on the committee were interviewed about the athletic officials’ claims, save one, Jack Evans, then UNC’s faculty representative to the NCAA. A Baker Tilly official later admitted the finding was incorrect. Martin also confirmed he never saw email correspondence between the department chairman and tutoring staff showing a cozy relationship that included tickets to games and negotiations to schedule a “paper” class on intermediate Swahili.

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools: This is the agency that accredits UNC, thereby allowing it to receive federal funding.

What it found: The no-show classes did not meet academic standards. The association put UNC on academic review, requiring it to offer free classes to students in 39 confirmed no-show classes, and also to continue holding spot checks to make sure classes are being held.

What it didn’t address: It did not try to determine a cause for the academic fraud. It also did not require UNC to provide free classes to hundreds of students enrolled in roughly 170 suspected no-show classes, despite receiving no additional evidence from UNC that those classes had been cleared as legitimate. UNC officials have since acknowledged they have no new evidence that clears the classes.

UNC Board of Governors: The overseer of the university system, it announced a panel review of the various investigations in June 2012.

What it found: A draft report released in February largely accepted the findings of the Martin report and UNC’s internal report. It said the lack of support for the athletics’ officials claims was a minor issue.

What it didn’t address: The panel never saw the emails showing a cozy relationship between Nyan’oro and the tutoring program for athletes. The panel did not inquire about athletic enrollments in the earliest known no-show classes.

State Bureau of Investigation: Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall launched this criminal probe in May 2012 after the N&O reported that Nyang’oro had received $12,000 in additional pay for a summer 2011 class that never met.

What it found: Evidence that convinced a grand jury that Nyang’oro had committed a felony of obtaining property through false pretenses by accepting the $12,000 without teaching the class.

What it didn’t address: The probe focuses solely on whether crimes were committed, not what caused the academic fraud and why it continued unchecked for so many years. Woodall said the probe is continuing and is focused on a second person who is not a current UNC employee.

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