North Carolina

UNC chairman resigns amid athletic investigation

UNC professor Julius Nyang'oro, chairman of UNC-CH African and Afro-American studies.
UNC professor Julius Nyang'oro, chairman of UNC-CH African and Afro-American studies. 2000 N&O file photo

A UNC-Chapel Hill department chairman at the center of questions regarding academic integrity amid an athletic scandal within the university's football program has resigned from the position, university officials said today.

UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp said in a statement that Julius Nyang'oro, who headed the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, has resigned as the university looks at "possible irregularities with courses that included undergraduate students."

"Because academic integrity is paramount, we have every obligation to get to the bottom of these issues," Thorp said.

The resignation follows reports in The News & Observer that raised questions about Nyang'oro's connections to football players and the athletic department. He will continue to teach.

Last week, the N&O reported that Nyang'oro had hired a sports agent to teach a summer class this year without telling his boss, Arts and Sciences Dean Karen Gil, about the agent's profession. The sports agent, Carl Carey Jr., a former advisor to football players at UNC-CH who earned his doctorate there, was representing two football players at the time he taught the class.

Nyang'oro's handling of two football players who took his classes also drew attention. He missed a blatant case of plagiarism in a paper submitted by one football player, Michael McAdoo. His department allowed a highly prized recruit, Marvin Austin, as an incoming freshman, to take a 400 level class taught by Nyang'oro before Austin had taken introductory classes that included a remedial writing class. Austin received a B plus in the class.

Both football players were kicked off the team last year as part of an NCAA investigation into academic misconduct and impermissible benefits from sports agents and their go-betweens. Carey is not among the agents found to have given players illegal gifts.

Allegations of NCAA violations include an assistant coach taking money from an agent, a former UNC football player who the NCAA considers an agent with access to players in the weight room, and numerous athletes accepting trips, parties and other perks from agents.That investigation into impermissible benefits and academic misconduct forced 14 players to miss at least one game last season, and seven sat out the entire season.

In July, Thorp fired football coach Butch Davis and accepted the retirement of Athletic Director Dick Baddour. UNC-CH has until Sept. 19 to respond to an NCAA notice of allegations, and is scheduled to appear before the association's infractions committee on Oct. 28.

After McAdoo's plagiarism was discovered by rival N.C. State University fans, and confirmed by The N&O, Thorp acknowledged that the university had missed it. But he continued to stand behind Nyang'oro, calling him a "great colleague."

Thorp was Nyang'oro's supervisor as dean of the Arts and Sciences college from July 2007 to May 2008, when Thorp became chancellor.

According to an academic resume, Nyang'oro began teaching at UNC-CH in 1984 as a visiting professor. He was hired as a professor six years later and became chairman of the African studies department in 1992.

His resume lists two teaching honors -- one from undergraduate students for the 1990-1991 academic year, and the outstanding faculty award from the Class of 2000 -- and four pages of published books and articles.

James Peacock, a UNC-CH anthropology professor and former faculty chairman, called Nyang'oro "one of the finest human beings and teachers and administrators whom I have ever known. Period. I don't really know anything about the situation with the plagiarism and all the rest, but whatever he have done in that area, and I don't know anything about it, should be balanced (with) his superb contributions in so many other ways."

Nyang'oro, 56, has a law degree from Duke University, and master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Miami, according to his resume. He received his bachelor's degree from a university in Tanzania.

He made $171,000 a year as chairman, overseeing a staff of 22. He will lose $12,000 in salary by leaving the post.

Nyang'oro had not responded to numerous requests for interviews over the past several weeks. Reached at his office today, he declined to comment and referred a reporter to the university administration.

Thorp said professor Evelyne Huber will serve as the interim chairman for the African studies department. She is also chairman of the political science department.

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