In July 2010, the NCAA launched an investigation that led to sanctions against the UNC-Chapel Hill football program. The probe helped uncover financial ties between a sports agent and UNC’s top assistant coach, as well as improper academic help provided by a tutor and a range of gifts that were offered and accepted by football players.
The NCAA leveled its formal allegations against UNC in June 2011. The case led to a loss of scholarships and other penalties through a process that was finalized early in 2013.
But the investigation failed to catch an even bigger scandal: UNC’s African studies department chairman and his assistant had created dozens of classes that were supposed to be lecture-style, but never met. Among multiple inquiries was one led by an auditing and consulting firm with former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin focusing on the African studies department.
• July 2011: Court documents filed by Michael McAdoo, a player seeking to restore his eligibility, make clear that he plagiarized a paper in a 2009 Swahili class, which was listed as being taught by Julius Nyang’oro, the chairman of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. Nyang’oro later tells UNC he didn’t teach the class.
• Aug. 21, 2011: N&O obtains and reports on an academic transcript of former star football player Marvin Austin that shows he started his college career in the summer of 2007 with a 400-level African studies class and received a B-plus. Austin’s SAT scores required remedial writing, which he took later. The 400-level class was also listed as being taught by Nyang’oro.
• Aug. 27, 2011: N&O reports on a sports agent who was hired by Nyang’oro to teach a summer 2011 class. The agent is a former academic counselor to UNC athletes and a college professor in Texas.
• September 2011: UNC announces Nyang’oro’s resignation as African studies department chairman and says it is reviewing “possible irregularities” with courses in the African studies department. The timeframe of the review is from the Austin class in the summer of 2007 through summer 2011. NCAA is notified of “new issues with student-athletes.”
• November 2011: UNC says it filed a report with its Public Safety department related to “unauthorized signatures on grade rolls and grade change forms.” UNC says Orange County district attorney and State Bureau of Investigation determined that activities “while unethical ... did not rise to criminal liability.”
• February 2012: UNC says a review of independent study courses in College of Arts and Sciences “shows no significant problems” beyond African studies department.
• March 2012: NCAA issues formal sanctions against football program from agent-driven probe that also uncovered improper tutor help, which had concluded in June 2011.
• May 2012: UNC releases faculty-led report that shows problems in more than 50 African studies classes, a finding Chancellor Holden Thorp says is surprising and shocking. The suspect classes include nine in which there was no evidence that a professor taught a course, with forged signatures on submitted grade rolls. In more than 40 other courses, there was little evidence of classroom teaching or other “instructional contact,” according to the review, though the courses were supposed to be lecture classes. Implicated along with Nyang’oro is longtime administrator Deborah Crowder. The report also found a “strikingly high” percentage of cases in Nyang’oro’s classes in which temporary grades were converted to permanent ones. UNC says the matter is not an athletics issue, but an academic one. The SBI begins a criminal probe of the African studies department.
• June 8, 2012: N&O reports that a majority of the enrollments in the nine most suspect classes were football or basketball players, highlighting one African studies summer class in 2011 that filled up within four days of its creation with 18 football players and one other student. UNC Board of Governors forms a panel to review university’s work. Later information shows that nearly two-thirds of the enrollments were athletes or former athletes.
• July 1, 2012: Nyang’oro retires and $12,000 is withheld from final paycheck tied to the summer 2011 class he had not taught.
July 8, 2012: N&O reports that athletes made up a majority of enrollments in the more than 40 “no-show” classes. UNC says academic problems do not mean NCAA rules were violated.
• July 26, 2012: Faculty report calls for an outside review of academics and athletics at UNC on findings of a “campus with two cultures.”
• Aug. 11, 2012: N&O reports on a transcript, confirmed within days as belonging to former star player Julius Peppers, that shows mostly poor grades but significant help from the African studies department. The transcript shows that Peppers was in danger of being ineligible, but that several high grades in African studies classes kept him in action. The transcript covers classes held more than a decade ago. The classes were the same ones later identified as being suspect ones in the 2007 to 2011 timeframe.
• Aug. 15, 2012: UNC appoints former Gov. Jim Martin and a management consulting and auditing firm to examine classes in African studies in the years before 2007 “for similar patterns indicating additional irregularly or aberrantly taught courses, if any.”
• Aug. 16, 2012: Thorp announces that UNC will study its balance of athletics and academics on campus, with that work to take place in 2013. He also says the academic support program for athletes has been restructured and will seek a new director. The athletics department says it has hired two senior administrators to help with oversight.
• Sept. 12, 2012: N&O reports that chief university fundraiser Matt Kupec has resigned amid questions about “personally driven” travel with Tami Hansbrough, a gifts officer and mother of former star basketball player Tyler Hansbrough. UNC refuses to release any documents.
• Sept. 13, 2012: N&O reports that Tami Hansbrough’s job was created and funded by Kupec, who had been stopped from directly hiring her by Thorp. Thorp approved the subsequent arrangement, and records later show that Thorp had traveled with the two.
• Sept. 17, 2012: Thorp announces he will resign, effective at the end of the 2012-13 academic year.
• Sept. 30, 2012: Records and documents show freshmen football players were enrolled in an upper-level African studies class, received intense help with their school work from academic support personnel, and that many could not read or write at a college level. The records suggest another African studies professor was aware of no-show classes for struggling athletes. The records show a heavily plagiarized paper by a current member of the football team. UNC says the documents, obtained by the N&O, were forwarded to Martin.
• Oct. 3, 2012: Thorp says information about a Naval Weapons Systems class from 2007 has been forwarded to Martin. Documents show six basketball players took the class on advice from an academic counselor assigned to the basketball team. The class was taught differently than ones before it and since, with papers and a presentation necessary for grading, instead of written tests and exams.
• Oct. 11, 2012: The interim director of the academic support program tells a Board of Governors panel that some efforts by tutors and others over the years to help players with school work amounted to “overhelp.”
• Oct. 21, 2012: N&O reports on more examples of plagiarism by football players, including one who submitted work that resembles that of four 11-year-olds from a Web site. A UNC athletics spokesman says athletes do the right thing in life and at school an “overwhelming amount of the time.”
• Nov. 18, 2012: Mary Willingham, a university employee who worked in the athlete support program, tells the N&O that the system set up to keep athletes eligible provided improper help and tolerated plagiarism. She says UNC is admitting athletes who are unable to do college work.
• Dec. 9, 2012: N&O reports that documents and interviews suggest some faculty and athletic officials were aware of higher-than-expected independent study enrollments by athletes in the African studies department as early as mid-2006, just as Auburn University dealt with an independent study scandal. But the concerns did not reach top academic officials. Independent study enrollments subsequently plummeted, particularly for the basketball team.
• Dec. 20, 2012: Martin releases report finding more than 200 lecture-style classes that were confirmed or suspected of having never met, dozens of independent studies with little or no supervision and 560 suspicious grade changes that date as far back as 1994. But Martin said the scandal was not about athletics. He contends athletics officials raised questions about the no-show classes, only to be told by a faculty athletics committee not to question how a professor teaches a class.
• Dec. 29, 2012: The N&O reports that there’s little evidence to back athletics officials’ claims that they raised questions about no-show classes. Numerous faculty members on the committee say they can recall no such discussion, or deny it ever took place.
• Jan. 25, 2013: Raina Rose Tagle, a Baker Tilly partner, appearing before a special panel of the UNC system Board of Governors, backs away from the finding that athletic officials had raised questions about no-show classes. She tells the panel that athletic officials “asked a question not necessarily of the faculty athletic committee as a whole but sort of offline.”
• Feb. 7, 2013: The UNC system Board of Governors’ special panel releases its report, largely accepting the findings of Gov. Martin and Baker Tilly. The panel’s report is met with criticism by some BOG members, particularly former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell, who says the investigations did not interview enough people or take up obvious lines of inquiry. He disputes that the fraud was not about athletics when athletes accounted for 45 percent of the enrollments in the no-show classes over a 10-year period, while representing less than 5 percent of the undergraduate student body.
• Feb. 18, 2013: UNC announces that Chancellor Thorp is leaving at the end of the academic year to become the provost at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. The move surprises faculty and students.
• Feb. 27, 2013: UNC officials confirm that administrators are performing visual inspections of classes across campus to make sure they are taking place. The spot checks are part of the university’s efforts to assure the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits UNC, that there is no need for a sanction in the wake of the academic fraud.
• June 8, 2013: Email correspondence released nearly a year after an N&O request shows that Nyang’oro had a cozy relationship with the academic support program for athletes. The emails showed that tutoring staff had offered Nyang’oro football tickets and one counselor negotiated with him to schedule a no-show class. UNC officials would not be specific as to whether the correspondence had been provided to investigators looking into the fraud.
• June 20, 2013: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools opts to monitor UNC for a year instead of imposing a sanction. The university agrees to provide free classes to students and alumni who were in 39 classes confirmed to have never met. Spot checks of classes will also continue.
July 20, 2013: The N&O reports that UNC correspondence shows faculty leader Jan Boxill succeeded in getting a last-minute revision to a faculty executive committee report that removed a concern that Crowder’s “extremely close” ties to athletics might have caused her to help enroll athletes in no-show classes. Boxill, a former academic counselor for athletes, told the report’s authors the concern “could further raise NCAA issues and that is not the intention.” She later said she was not trying to water down the report, but remove “innuendos.”
• Nov. 8, 2013: The N&O reports that UNC correspondence with the NCAA shows it would not likely pursue violations related to the academic fraud case.
• Dec. 2, 2013: Nyang’oro is indicted by an Orange County grand jury on a felony charge of obtaining property through false pretenses. The charge involves the $12,000 in summer pay Nyang’oro received to teach the summer 2011 class that was filled with 18 football players and a former football player. The class never met.
• Jan. 1, 2014: The New York Times publishes a front-page story about the scandal, ushering in a wave of national coverage from Bloomberg Businessweek, ESPN, CNN, NPR and others. Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” also chimes in.
• Jan. 8, 2014: CNN, in a special report on the reading abilities of college athletes, cites research by Willingham indicating a subset of athletes suspected of having academic challenges are mostly reading below the high school level. The report is widely repeated in the media, in part because basketball coach Roy Williams disputes Willingham’s claim that one of his former players couldn’t read. She offers to show him proof; he says it’s not his place to meet with her.
• Jan. 15, 2014: Former football player Michael McAdoo tells the N&O he was steered by the athlete tutoring program to four no-show classes, the last one after he had been suspended from the team. He said counselors also steered him to the African studies major, and called the no-show classes GPA boosters. Meanwhile, attorneys in a class action lawsuit that calls for paying college athletes say the UNC scandal will figure prominently in the case.
• Jan. 17, 2014: Provost Jim Dean and Chancellor Carol Folt tell the Faculty Council that Willingham’s research into athlete literacy is so flawed it has no merit. Dean calls the research a “travesty.” He announces the data will also be reviewed by an independent entity. Willingham stands by her findings, but one of her co-researchers acknowledges her work had not yet been vetted by others.
• Jan. 23, 2014: Folt tells trustees that the university accepts responsibility and is “absolutely” accountable for years of bogus African studies courses that were significantly populated by athletes. She says the university is “going to learn from that painful history.” The same day, the N&O sues UNC for records that could identify the numbers of athlete enrollments in the earliest known no-show classes.
• Feb. 21, 2014: UNC system and UNC-CH officials announce a new investigation, this one led by Kenneth Wainstein, a former high-level U.S. Justice Department official. He and three other attorneys in his firm are expected to delve into unanswered questions about the role of athletics in the scandal.
• March 4, 2014: Woodall announces that he will not charge Crowder in the case, and that she has agreed to cooperate with Wainstein’s investigation.
• March 25, 2014: Two more former football players tell national cable news programs they were in suspect African studies classes, and say the tutoring program used them to help keep athletes eligible to play. Two days later, several current athletes tell trustees they are not aware of others who can’t read. They also say the tutoring program does not dictate what classes they will take.
• April 3, 2014: More than 30 retired professors lend their names to a letter to the N&O saying faculty need to step up and seek answers about the scandal. Among the 32 retired faculty are nationally recognized experts in their fields. They also say the university has been engaging more in public relations spin than in getting to the bottom of the scandal. Folt says faculty and administrators are diligently grappling with the scandal.
• April 11, 2014: Three outside experts hired by UNC dispute Willingham’s athlete literacy claims. They say she has overstated how many athletes were subpar readers, and used a test not recommended for determining reading ability at the grade level. Willingham says they did not have access to all the information she used to arrive at her findings. She resigns at the end of the academic year, saying she was dealing with a hostile work environment.
• May 19, 2014: A state judge rules against the N&O’s lawsuit seeking athlete enrollment data for confirmed no-show classes. The judge says he could identify at least one athlete just by looking at the spreadsheet, so making it public could be a violation of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
• June 6, 2014: In an ESPN report, Rashad McCants, a star from the 2005 NCAA men’s basketball championship team, says he took many no-show classes, and they kept him eligible to play. He said the tutoring program steered mim to the classes, tutors wrote papers for him and everyone in the athletic department knew about the “paper class system.” Coach Roy Williams and teammates dispute much of what McCants says. The N&O later that day reports that data from Willingham shows that five members of the 2005 team were heavily enrolled in AFAM no-show classes and accurately-named independent studies. The N&O also reports that Julius Nyang’oro is now cooperating with Ken Wainstein’s investigation.
• June 30, 2014: UNC announces the NCAA has reopened its investigation. The NCAA later says in a statement that “additional people with information and others who were previously uncooperative might be willing to speak with the enforcement staff.” Also that day, Mary Willingham files a lawsuit against UNC, claiming a hostile work environment caused her to leave the university.
• July 3, 2014: Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall drops the fraud charge against Julius Nyang’oro in exchange for his cooperation with Ken Wainstein’s probe. Woodall says the agreement allows him to charge Nyang’oro’s again if his cooperation isn’t truthful or complete.
• Aug. 4, 2014: UNC fans find several passages in Mary Willingham’s master’s thesis, written in 2009, that mirror or closely resemble other sources. Two experts tell the N&O the passages constitute plagiarism, but say it appears to be a case of sloppiness in a paper that mostly properly cites and quotes sources. The experts say the institution that granted Willingham her degree should examine the paper. Willingham says the plagiarism was inadvertent; UNC fans say it’s more proof that she can’t be trusted.
• Oct. 22, 2014: Kenneth Wainstein’s investigation finds that pressure from the athletes’ tutoring program prompted the academic fraud, countering UNC’s long held position the scandal did not have its roots in athletics. His report identifies nearly 190 no-show classes, and hundreds more bogus independent studies that date as far back as 1993. Roughly 3,100 students took the classes, nearly half of them athletes. Several tutoring staff knew the classes had no instructor, including Jan Boxill, who would later become faculty leader. Experts now say it’s the worst academic scandal in the history of college athletics.
Sources: UNC-Chapel Hill, NCAA, UNC Board of Governors, News & Observer reporting