Report: UNC had academic irregularities at school for 18 years

Report: UNC had academic irregularities at school for 18 years

Published Oct. 22, 2014 4:07 p.m. ET

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The findings of North Carolina's independent investigation into academic irregularities were announced on Wednesday, and the results were certainly mixed.

But the crux of the issue was that so-called paper classes -- independent-studies classes that did not involve a professor -- were offered by an administrator in the African-American studies department from 1993-11.

Once the story about these paper classes broke back in 2011, questions lingered over not only the football program (which was already under NCAA sanctions, due to impermissible benefits), but also to the Tar Heels' basketball team.

As a result of the academic scandal, the previous chancellor (Holden Thorp) lost his job. Now, Carol Folt -- who took over in the fall of 2013 -- was tasked with, as she put it, "getting to the bottom of" what happened.


So, the university retained Kenneth Wainstein back in February. Wainstein is a former federal prosecutor who worked at the DOJ for 19 years. He also served as Homeland Security Advisor to President George W. Bush.

Wainstein now works for a private practice in Washington, D.C, and has overseen a number of independent internal investigations at various corporations and institutions, including one into the allegations of misconduct in the NCAA probe of the University of Miami.

Folt charged Wainstein to "ask the tough questions, follow the facts wherever they lead and get the job done."

Wainstein agreed to share his findings with the NCAA, which announced in July that it was reopening its investigation of North Carolina, specifically into its academic irregularities.

His report can be found here

UNC has conducted four different internal studies of what happened from 2011-12, and a number of outside reviews haven't been quite thorough enough for some.

Former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin's review, which was completed two years ago, detailed a lot of the specifics of the academic irregularities in the AFAM department -- but not as much into the why.

Martin, lacking any sort of leverage to get some of the more important parties involved to talk, was somewhat limited in what he could uncover from the start.

Martin's findings showed the irregularities were limited to the conduct of former head of African and Afro-American Studies Department Julius Nyang'oro and his longtime department manager Deborah Crowder.

However, neither would speak to Martin.

Wainstein, though, had the cooperation of both, which was likely largely because Nyang'oro -- charged with fraud earlier this year -- got his charges dropped as a result. And this particular investigation has the cooperation of Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall, who is sharing any and all information from the criminal investigation into the no-show classes. 

Wainstein had access to not only those witnesses, but also "millions" of electronic records, including transcripts and records going back to the 1980s.

Those documents, which numbered in the tens of thousands, were individually reviewed by members of Wainstein's team. The team also analyzed 150 papers submitted for the paper classes, and interviewed 126 people (students, student-athletes, administrators, tutors, faculty, coaches, etc.) -- but only after also doing a detailed search through relevant emails to better inform said interviews.

The findings are staggering: Crowder admitted she instituted the paper class program, as a result of wanting to help struggling students, something that stemmed from her own academic experience as a struggling student.

In essence, the classes -- termed independent studies -- began in 1993, when Nyang'oro became the department's chair. He shared her sympathy for struggling students.

The paper classes generally took the concept of an independent study class and "and basically corrupted it," according to Wainstein.

A normal independent study course is one in which a student and a professor work closely together, deciding on a research topic for a paper as the student writes that paper (which represents their final grade) throughout the semester.

Crowder's version "took the professor completely out of the picture," Wainstein said.

According to Wainstein's findings, Crowder -- not a member of the faculty -- had the final papers submitted to her and were graded "without regard to quality of paper."

In 1999, she even added a variant to the independent studies -- a class designated as a lecture class that never actually met, but was essentially the same as the paper class.

After her retirement in 2009, Nyang'oro agreed to continue the paper classes in her stead. University officials became aware of this in the summer of 2011 based on media reports and confronted Nyang'oro about it, upon which admitting he had nothing to do with the classes, even though he was listed as the instructor.

The investigations into all of this began, but neither he nor Crowder had  more to say about it until this summer.

The real question: Was this an athletics issue or an academic one? The Martin report originally said that it was an academic issue only, since regular students were also enrolled in the paper classes.

"Clearly, it was an issue in both areas and indeed, it was a University issue," Folt said.

Multiple Academic Support Program for Student Athletes (ASPSA) advisors at North Carolina were found to have full knowledge of Crowder's scheme, and those advisors steered athletes to Crowder's classes.

The investigation found that none of North Carolina's head coaches or their staff knew exactly what the classes were, but there were varying levels of concern.

Ultimately, there was no proof that any of North Carolina's head coaches understood what these classes were. But the real issue comes with the conduct between the ASPSA counselors and Crowder.

Wainstein found evidence that two counselors suggested grades to Crowder, including one football counselor who provided a list of players that would be taking her class along with grades that each needed to stay eligible.

"(The ASPSA is) where we did find knowledge and complicity. We found that five of the ASPSA counselor knew exactly what was going on in these classes...and they took affirmative steps to take advantage of them," Wainstein said.

The NCAA will have the choice about what to do with this information. The football program still has one more left of scholarship restrictions based on sanctions handed down in 2012 (five scholarships a year for three years).

The basketball program had not been associated with this with any solid evidence until this report, and it remains to be seen what -- if anything -- the NCAA will do with this report.

Folt said that the University has sent copies of the report to both the NCAA and the accrediting agency. Folt is tasked with the almost impossible duty of repairing the university's image and reputation going forward, and this is the first step -- openness, honesty and transparency.

"When you're under a cloud like this, not only does it make it difficult to fully focus on the future, it makes it very difficult for you to even appreciate the strength of the present," Folt said. "More fully understand and address that past so that our community can finally move forward.

"If we don't fully accept responsibility, we will not be able to move forward. That's what we're talking about today," Folt said. "We have to show as we go forward that we can be honest and resilient. We have to show that we can continue our soul-searching and reflection without any excuses."