UNC-Chapel Hill officials now know the results of a nearly yearlong investigation by the NCAA into the longstanding academic fraud that involved 3,100 students over an 18-year-period.
But the only clue the university provided about the NCAA’s findings, known as a Notice of Allegations, is that they are lengthy. UNC officials declined to make the document immediately available.
In a joint statement, Chancellor Carol Folt and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said the university had begun reviewing the NCAA’s notice.
“We take these allegations very seriously, and we will carefully evaluate them to respond within the NCAA’s 90-day deadline,” the statement said. “The University will publicly release the NCAA’s notice as soon as possible. The notice is lengthy and must be prepared for public dissemination to ensure we protect privacy rights as required by federal and state law.”
The statement said that when the university’s review for redactions is complete, it will post the notice on the Carolina Commitment website and notify the media.
“Consistent with NCAA protocols, the University cannot comment on details of the investigation until it is completed,” the statement said.
Joel Curran, a UNC spokesman, said the notice would not be released Friday.
In June 2011, when the NCAA released its Notice of Allegations involving UNC football players who had accepted impermissible benefits from agents and improper help from a former tutor, the university made a copy of the 42-page notice – with names redacted – available later that day.
Friday’s notice comes nearly four years since the first clues of the fake classes surfaced. The NCAA was notified of them in August 2011, after The News & Observer reported that former UNC football player Marvin Austin had received a high grade in an upper-level African studies class before he had begun his first full semester as a freshman.
That report ultimately touched off multiple investigations in the years since that found roughly 200 bogus classes dating as far back as 1993. The classes never met and only required a paper turned in at the end.
Vow to respond ‘vigorously’
David Routh, UNC’s vice chancellor for university development, said in a broadly released email to alumni and others Friday that the university will respond “vigorously.”
“Rest assured, we will vigorously pursue a fair and just outcome for the Carolina community,” he wrote. “Our response to the NCAA will include context and background information necessary to present a full picture of the facts in our case. Please remember the infractions process does not conclude until the Committee on Infractions holds its hearing and issues its ruling.”
He closed by saying: “We will follow up with you when that release occurs to share points you can use in conversations with fellow alumni, colleagues, friends, neighbors and family to both inform and remind them about key facts” from UNC’s perspective.
Several experts have said the academic fraud is the biggest in NCAA history.
For years, the NCAA declined to dig into the scandal. It visited the campus in the fall of 2011, but it later said in 2012 and 2013 that it saw no apparent violations in the fake classes. NCAA officials never gave a full explanation, but experts said the fraud would not be in the NCAA’s purview if it was open to all students and lacked any involvement by athletic personnel.
The NCAA’s posture changed in 2014, when former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein began investigating the fraud. Three months after his probe was underway, UNC said the NCAA had come back, based on evidence from formerly uncooperative witnesses thought to be Julius Nyang’oro, former chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies department, and his former department manager, Deborah Crowder.
Wainstein’s report in October found that the fake classes began in 1993 after counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes complained to Crowder that Nyang’oro’s independent studies were too demanding.
“On one occasion,” the report states, “Crowder told him that the ASPSA academic counselors believed he was ‘being an ass’ for demanding so much from the players and were rethinking whether they should be steering student-athletes to AFAM classes.
“In light of that push-back from the ASPSA counselors, Crowder took it upon herself to improvise with AFAM’s independent study classes. She did so by designing an irregular independent study class that essentially took the professor out of the picture – substituting herself for the professor and substituting her standards for those that traditionally apply to independent studies.”
Concern for athletes
Several years later, Crowder began masking these classes by labeling them lecture-style classes. That allowed athletes and other students to take more than four of them without coming under scrutiny for taking too many independent studies.
Crowder told Wainstein and his team of lawyers that she sought to help all needy students with the fake classes. But she had a particular concern for athletes. She was a big fan of UNC’s basketball team and was close friends with the team’s longtime counselor, Burgess McSwain, who died in 2004.
Wainstein’s report found that several counselors to the athletes knew the classes lacked instruction. Two suggested grades to Crowder.
John Fennebresque, chairman of the UNC Board of Governors, said he found out about the notice on Friday. The board met Friday in Chapel Hill.
Folt, the UNC chancellor, rushed past reporters at the end of that meeting, saying she had another meeting to attend.
UNC will now have 90 days to respond to the Notice of Allegations. The university could rebut any aspect of the NCAA’s findings, and UNC could also include any self-imposed penalties – though Cunningham, the athletic director, has said the school won’t do that.
The case would then go before the NCAA Committee on Infractions, which would decide what penalties UNC would face. The committee meets several times per year, though it’s unclear when it might meet in the fall, after UNC submits its response.
During the NCAA’s earlier investigation into impermissible benefits and academic fraud within the football program, UNC received a Notice of Allegations on June 21, 2011, and responded on Sept. 19 of that year. Five weeks later, UNC appeared before the committee, which provided its ruling on March 12, 2012. If this case follows a similar timeline, it would reach its end in February 2016.
The NCAA’s findings come at a time when the UNC faithful have watched an era of glory fade from view. Beloved men’s basketball coach Dean Smith died in February, prompting a flood of tributes to the 36-year winning Tar Heels coach. On Monday, Smith’s successor, Bill Guthridge, will be laid to rest in Chapel Hill.
Staff writer Andrew Carter contributed to this report.