UNC dean to step down, return to teaching

The dean of UNC-Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences, who oversaw the African and Afro-American Studies Department for the past five years, is stepping down to return to teaching at the university.

Karen Gil will leave the dean’s position at the end of the current academic year in 2015, after six years, and return to the classroom as a psychology professor. Chancellor Carol Folt said Thursday it was Gil’s decision to step down.

In an email to faculty and staff, Gil wrote that it was time for new leadership in the College.

“There is much to do as we prepare to embark on the next capital campaign,” Gil wrote. “Also, there is critical work ahead to build on the important reforms we have already put in place.”

Gil’s departure as dean signals the turnover of another top administrative official at UNC-CH in the aftermath of the findings of the Oct. 22 Wainstein report, which detailed 18 years of fraudulent, no-show classes in the AFAM department.

Last week, the university announced that its top lawyer, Leslie Strohm, was leaving to assume a vice presidency at the University of Louisville.

In an interview Thursday, Gil said she had originally agreed to serve five years as dean, but wanted to stay until the conclusion of the Wainstein report and several unrelated projects she’d started.

“It felt important to me to stay through this year, and everything that we’ve been working on, so that we’d be in a good place,” she said.

The Wainstein report said Gil denied having knowledge of the so-called “paper classes” until the scheme emerged in 2011.

Administrators started making inquiries in August of that year, after a report in The News & Observer raised questions about a freshman football player taking a 400-level AFAM class. Also, evidence came to light of significant plagiarism on an AFAM paper by another player.

Jonathan Hartlyn, a senior associate dean who reported to Gil, met with Julius Nyang’oro, AFAM chairman, who said that some classes were arranged and managed by a department secretary, Deborah Crowder. Hartlyn immediately reported to Gil what he had learned, the Wainstein report said, and Gil asked Nyang’oro to resign as chairman.

Gil then tasked Hartlyn and William Andrews, another senior associate dean, to do an internal investigation of the irregular classes, which found 54 AFAM classes during a four-year period in which there was little or no indication of instruction. Nyang’oro soon retired, in July of 2012.

The Hartlyn-Andrews report was an important step in beginning to understand what happened and to identify reforms, Gil said.

“Before the first investigation, we didn’t know what we were really looking into or for,” she said.

Wainstein found that a lack of oversight, in part, had allowed the scandal to extend for nearly two decades. For example, as chairman of AFAM, Nyang’oro was exempt from post-tenure review required of other faculty. The university now requires reviews of department chairs.

Gil was also the supervisor of Bobbi Owen, who was a senior associate dean until this year. The Wainstein report found evidence that Owen tried to clamp down on AFAM in 2005 or 2006 after noticing a large number of independent studies in the department. But Owen apparently did not investigate her concerns further and missed an opportunity to put an end to the fraud, the report said.

Gil declined to comment on Owen, saying it was a personnel matter.

‘Important contributor’

On Wednesday, Folt praised Gil’s service as dean. Under her tenure, the College adopted new teaching methods in science classes, launched a biomedical engineering degree with N.C. State University and started an entrepreneurship minor degree by undergraduates.

“She’s done a fantastic job,” Folt said. “She’s been really an important contributor. The list of the accomplishments are great. And it’s her decision that this is that moment, but she’s also given me until the end of the academic year, which is really important. In the academy, with dean level, we usually like to have a long transition because it allows us to do our national search.”

On Thursday, Folt reported a range of university responses to the Wainstein report, but she would not comment on the disciplinary actions being taken against nine unidentified employees. She said those actions were unfolding in different stages.

‘Incredibly challenging’

Folt highlighted a number of areas:

•  NCAA investigation. Folt said she had no timeline for the NCAA investigation that has been under way for six months. Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said the university is in constant communication with the NCAA. “This is an incredibly challenging time, but we’re fully cooperating, and I’m excited to at some point get to the end,” he said.

•  Accreditation. Folt said the university is expecting a letter any time from accrediting agency the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, but had not received it yet. “They have indicated to me that they have questions about our compliance with a range of standards,” she said. “So we will immediately respond as we have before.”

•  Faculty involvement. Folt said faculty are becoming involved in monitoring athletes’ academic eligibility and progress in new ways. There are regular meetings scheduled among faculty, athletic counselors, the registrar’s office and compliance people.

•  Monitoring academic departments. Folt said department chairs are now required to submit annual reports, which are then reviewed by senior associate deans.

•  Review of African, African American and Diaspora Studies. The department formerly known as AFAM is undergoing a review and a planning process with the provost, Folt said.

•  Advising. Folt said there was a deep focus on advising, not just for athletes but for other groups, including first-generation college students and veterans.

•  Public records. Folt said the university’s new public records website had 1,200 unique visitors in the first 24 hours and has had 16,000 views so far. The UNC system’s General Administration has asked the campus to work with other UNC schools on a similar approach.

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