UNC-Chapel Hill’s Department of Naval Science exists to produce “highly qualified” officers who serve on ships, aircraft and submarines, or in the Marine Corps.
For the spring semester in 2007, it also taught a half-dozen men’s basketball players.
Enrollment records requested by The News & Observer show that the department had become a popular place for athletes. One class particularly stands out: Naval Weapons Systems, or NAVS 302, which met in the spring of 2007. Of 38 students in the class, 30 were athletes.
Six of those were members of the men’s basketball team. The class’s average grade that semester was 3.63, or better than a B-plus, and the class’ work requirements were deemed so difficult to assess that its structure was later changed.
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One of the basketball players, Bobby Frasor, now director of basketball operations at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said he and his teammates took the class after the class instructor discussed it with counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes, a program that helps athletes stay eligible academically to play sports.
“He told our academic advisers, but I had never heard of the class, and basically, our academic adviser recommended it and we enrolled in it,” Frasor said. “And I don’t know if it was my favorite class, but it was an enjoyable class.”
Former All-America Tyler Hansbrough also was in the class. It was the only NAVS 302 class over the past six years in which basketball players enrolled, records show.
NAVS 302 is the most recent questionable class to surface in an academic scandal that has led to multiple investigations on campus and prompted Chancellor Holden Thorp to announce his resignation last month. Until now, the questions focused on “no-show” classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, and involved mostly football players.
But this class, which did meet, included a substantial portion of the basketball team. Frasor said that Wayne Walden, a former assistant director for academic support who handled the basketball team, had recommended the class.
Walden, who no longer works at UNC, could not be reached. He was brought to UNC from the University of Kansas shortly after men’s basketball coach Roy Williams was hired from there. Williams had described Walden as being an integral part of the basketball program.
Williams could not be reached for comment.
John Infante, who helped oversee NCAA compliance at Colorado State and Loyola Marymount and writes a blog on compliance issues, said in an interview that UNC’s support program for athletes had to be in the loop on the weapons class.
“That many kids in a course which is that rare for athletes to take, you can probably assume – or at least say – that academic support staff should have known,” he said. “They should have noticed that.”
The key question from an NCAA viewpoint, he said, would be how lenient the professor was with athletes once they enrolled and whether there was special treatment.
No exams or quizzes
The syllabus for the NAVS 302 class shows that it was a different type of course than in other years. It had no required exams or quizzes and no major research paper. Students received much of their grade from a two- to three-page double-spaced midterm paper and a group project that required a 20-minute oral presentation split among five students.
Frasor recalled the paper was on weaponry and the presentation was on battle scenarios.
The professor for the class, Lt. Brian Lubitz, taught it only once, UNC records show. A former captain for the Naval Academy soccer team, he also was earning his MBA from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School at the time. He now works in Philadelphia for the investment firm Goldman Sachs.
The current head of the Naval Science Department at UNC, Capt. Doug Wright, said the course work requirements in that particular class had troubled his predecessor, Capt. Stephen Matts, so much that Matts told subsequent instructors he wanted them changed. Later course outlines show quizzes, tests and papers or presentations. Matts could not be reached.
Wright said he would have made the same changes because the class as structured under Lubitz would make it difficult to determine whether the students were learning the material.
“It would make it harder to...figure out how they are doing,” Wright said. “Could it be done? Sure. Is it ‘illegal?’ No. But I wouldn’t have done it and apparently my predecessor didn’t approve of it either because they changed it.”
Thorp said in an interview that the class looks like an example of clustering, in which students group around a particular class or major. Universities try to track clustering to make sure classes and majors have not become easy spots for athletes trying to keep their grades up to stay eligible for sports.
Thorp said he has now sent the Naval Weapons Systems enrollment and average grade information to former Gov. Jim Martin and the accounting firm Baker Tilly as part of a comprehensive review that he expects will show where clustering occurs within the university, and not just among athletes. Thorp brought in Martin and Baker Tilly in August after new evidence surfaced suggesting no-show classes in the African studies department went back much farther than an internal investigation was able to find.
“We’ve given the investigators free rein to look at this stuff,” Thorp said.
Swahili and weapons
Much of the problems at UNC have focused on football because the NCAA brought sanctions against the program and because football players made up more than a third of the enrollments in the no-show classes.
Enrollment data for the African studies classes show basketball players accounted for 23 enrollments over a two-year period that began with the first summer semester of 2007. In two cases, the sole enrollee in one of the no-show classes was a basketball player. There were no more enrollments after the summer of 2009, while football players continued to enroll in no-show classes.
The university’s records show athletes accounted for more than half the enrollments in at least four other naval science classes. One weapons class, held in the fall of 2008, had 26 athletes, eight of them football players. The grade-point average for the class was 3.84.
Lubitz spelled out in his syllabus that he reserved the right to have quizzes and tests. But the class syllabus says, “At this time none are anticipated.”
Several attempts to reach Lubitz over the past two months were unsuccessful.
Lubitz left UNC in 2009 and went to Goldman Sachs; around that time, he also was on the board of a foundation that aimed to connect the children of fallen soldiers with executives, athletes, entertainers and others. His biography with the foundation said, “Brian’s enthusiasm for education has been referenced by his students in numerous publications, to include Sports Illustrated.”
Hansbrough told Sports Illustrated in March 2007, as he was mentioned as the possible Player of the Year in the NCAA, that he was taking both Swahili as a language and the Naval Weapons Systems class.
Hansbrough said he was enrolled in Swahili because he thought “it would be cool” and Naval Weapons Systems because “I wanted classes about things I wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to on my own.”
Hansbrough, now a member of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, declined to comment Tuesday through a team spokesman.
Efforts to reach other members of the 2006-07 basketball team were unsuccessful. Frasor declined to say which of his teammates attended the class.
Only one player on that year’s team, Wes Miller, had a grade-point average of 3.0 or better for the year, according to an N&O analysis of Atlantic Coast Conference data.
Grades now drop
Wright, who also oversees the naval science programs at N.C. State and Duke as part of a joint assignment, said he could not say whether the class had become a safe haven for athletes because he was not at the university then.
He said he has referred the matter to his supervisors in the Navy, though he was unsure what they could do with a class that is now five years old. The Navy pays the instructors’ salaries and some operating expenses, as well as providing textbooks to students.
He said the classes are not intended to be easy, given the goal is to train Navy and Marine officers to handle the rigors of military leadership. UNC boasts that at one point in the department’s 71-year-history, only the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., commissioned more officers.
“This is what our students need to do well in the fleet and I take that extremely seriously,” Wright said. “That’s my moral calling.”
Since he took over the department, the weapons class average grade has plummeted to roughly a C average.
News researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.