Former UNC official Nyang'oro will fight felony charge

dkane@newsobserver.comDecember 3, 2013 

— The attorney for former UNC-Chapel Hill African studies chairman Julius Nyang’oro said Tuesday that his client intends to fight a felony charge filed against him in a long-running academic fraud case.

“Dr. Nyang’oro is presumed to be innocent under our law,” Bill Thomas, a Durham lawyer, said. “There’s been one side of this story that has been put forth in the press, but he’s going to have an opportunity to present his side. We intend to present his case in court. He is going to contest these charges.”

An Orange County grand jury on Monday indicted Nyang’oro on a charge of obtaining property by false pretenses. It is a low-level felony with a maximum sentence of 30 months in prison but would likely result in probation for Nyang’oro if he were convicted.

Nyang’oro, 59, of Durham, had his first appearance in District Court on Tuesday afternoon. He did not speak in court and offered no comment as he entered and exited the Orange County courthouse with his wife, Alu, and several other family members. Earlier in the day, he appeared before a magistrate and was released on a $30,000 bail bond.

Thomas said it was an “unfortunate decision” to charge Nyang’oro, but he did not elaborate.

An uncle who went to the magistrate’s office with Nyang’oro told reporters for WRAL and WNCN that Nyang’oro was innocent.

“He hasn’t done anything wrong,” Sichle Sikazwb told WRAL. “It seems the whole world is going after him as if he was the whole university. He wasn’t the whole university; he was just a professor.”

More charges to come?

Nyang’oro is accused of receiving $12,000 for a class that he did not teach in the summer of 2011. Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said Nyang’oro was paid to teach that class – AFAM 280: Blacks in North Carolina – lecture style, but he did not.

It is one of more than 200 such lecture-style classes dating back to the mid-1990s that show little or no evidence of any instruction. These classes included roughly 500 grade changes that are either confirmed to be or suspected of being unauthorized.

A university investigation and a second one the university commissioned former Gov. Jim Martin to conduct have blamed the academic fraud solely on Nyang’oro and his longtime department manager, Deborah Crowder, who retired in 2009.

Woodall has said a second individual could face charges in the case, but he would only say that person is not a current UNC employee.

Ties to athletics

The investigation began in May 2012 after The News & Observer reported that Nyang’oro had been paid for teaching a class listed among 54 no-shows during the previous five years. Correspondence with the university showed Nyang’oro had been in Africa at least part of the time the class was in session.

The case has attracted national attention, largely because of its ties to athletics. Nyang’oro created the AFAM 280 class a few days before the summer semester started, and it filled with football players.

Athletes – particularly those in the revenue-generating sports of football and men’s basketball – had a disproportionate presence in the classes, and correspondence from the tutoring program for athletes showed staff members there knew the classes didn’t meet and were not challenging. Among the athletes they helped place in the classes were academically challenged freshmen, records show.

University officials and Martin have said the fraud was not tied to athletics because nonathletes were in the classes and had the same access and grades. But the university has yet to show that nonathletes had the same level of help athletes received in enrolling in the classes and in writing the term papers that were typically required for the courses.

The university has also declined to release information that would shed more light on the scandal, such as how many athletes – particularly football and basketball players – enrolled in the earliest known no-show classes. News researcher Peggy Neal contributed.

Kane: 919-829-4861; Twitter: @dankanenando

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service