The N.C.A.A., which initially said that the scandal had nothing to do with the sports program, has reopened an investigation into the matter.
The university’s chancellor, Carol L. Folt, has said that U.N.C. has already established myriad policies to prevent a recurrence, including setting up spot checks to ensure that classes are in fact taking place. She said that as a result of the report, four employees — including one working at another campus in the North Carolina system — had been “terminated,” and that the university had begun disciplinary proceedings against five others.
Although the report found no evidence that high-level university officials knew about the fake classes, it faulted the university for missing numerous warning signs over many years.
More than 3,100 students, 47.6 percent of them athletes, were enrolled in and received credit for the phantom classes, most of which were created and graded solely by a single employee, Deborah Crowder. Ms. Crowder was a nonacademic who worked as the African studies department’s administrator and who told Mr. Wainstein that she had been motivated by a desire to help struggling athletes.
Some of the classes took the form of independent study courses in which the students never met the professor; others took the form of lecture courses in which the classes were supposed to meet at specific times and places but never did. Over time, Ms. Crowder was joined in the scheme by the chairman of the department, Julius Nyang’oro, who became the professor of record for many of the fake classes. Mr. Nyang’oro retired in 2012, after news of the scheme came to light.
Ms. Crowder required students to turn in only a single paper, but the papers were often largely plagiarized or padded with “fluff,” the report said. She generally gave the papers A’s or B’s after a cursory glance. The classes were widely known on campus as “paper classes.”
The report listed myriad examples of the outrageousness of the scheme, which Mr. Nyang’oro continued even after Ms. Crowder’s retirement, offering six additional bogus courses.
Sometimes, the report said, counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes explicitly told Mr. Nyang’oro and Ms. Crowder what grades students needed “to remain academically or athletically eligible.”
After skimming a student’s paper, Mr. Nyang’oro “would then assign grades based largely on his assessment of the impact that grade would have on the student’s ability to remain eligible,” the report said.
In the case of Ms. Crowder, the report said she sometimes negotiated with academic support counselors over individual students’ grades. For example, in September 2008, Jan Boxill, the academic counselor for the women’s basketball team, sent Ms. Crowder a paper to be graded. After promising in an email that “I will try to accommodate as many favors as possible,” Ms. Crowder then expressed some skepticism about the paper.
“Did you say a D will do?” she asked, according to emails released by the university. “I’m only asking because 1, no sources, 2, it has absolutely nothing to do with the assignments for that class and 3. it seems to me to be a recycled paper.”
Ms. Boxill responded, “Yes, a D will be fine; that’s all she needs.”
According to U.N.C.’s website, Ms. Boxill is currently the director of the university’s Parr Center for Ethics and was recently named the 2015 Warren Fraleigh distinguished scholar by the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport. A spokeswoman for the Parr Center said Ms. Boxill was traveling and could not immediately be reached for comment.
The university’s football coach in 2009, Butch Davis, is quoted by Mr. Wainstein as saying that he did not recall seeing the PowerPoint slide outlining the benefits of the fake courses.
The papers the students turned in were often woefully bad, according to the report, which asked three outside experts to examine 150 such papers. The review found that in 61, at least 25 percent of the text “was taken verbatim from other sources,” and in 26 of those, at least 50 percent was copied from somewhere else.
“For example, in one paper that was ostensibly about the life and work of Nikki Giovanni as it related to larger dynamics in African-American culture, the student had simply written a two-page introduction and a last page of text,” the experts found, according to the report.
“The entire rest of the paper in between those pages is almost nothing other than transcriptions of poems and other texts by Giovanni, formatted to take up maximal space,” the report also said.
One thing was made abundantly clear in the report: The fake classes went a long way toward helping athletes overwhelmed by academic demands remain eligible to play on the Tar Heels teams.
“In the case of 329 students, the grade they received in a paper class provided the G.P.A. boost that either kept or pushed their G.P.A. above the 2.0 level for a semester,” the report said. Of those students, 169 were athletes: 123 football players, 15 men’s basketball players, eight women’s basketball players and 26 athletes from other sports.
In the fall of 2009, the first semester in more than a decade without Ms. Crowder’s paper classes, the football team recorded its lowest grade-point average in 10 years, 2.121, the report said.Continue reading the main story
In its ongoing battle with the NCAA, UNC-Chapel Hill has taken on the enforcement agency’s jurisdiction and challenged whether it could reopen a 2011 investigation into bogus classes that helped keep athletes eligible.
In a less-noticed move, it also has questioned the NCAA’s accuracy on a piece of its evidence, saying the NCAA erred in partially basing a violation on a class that the university claimed had not been under suspicion. And UNC has protested that its challenge to investigators’ accuracywasn’t allowed into evidence late last year as legal arguments continued to slow the case.
The accuracy question, however, could boomerang on the university. In its challenge, UNC’s lawyer, Rick Evrard, stated in a letter last year that a class set up by one of the academic scandal’s central figures wasn’t found to be a bogus “paper” class. That assertion, however, appears to have been based on an inadvertent omission in a report that represents the most extensive public investigation into the classes.
Evrard contended in a Jan. 7, 2016 letter that when an academic counselor for athletes asked for a paper class to be offered in 2010, there’s no evidence it was done, and therefore, there was no impermissible benefit in that instance.
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The News & Observer reported on the class in 2013. Jaimie Lee, an academic counselor to football players in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes, asked Julius Nyang’oro, the chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies Department, in an email to repeat a Swahili language class that had been held as a “research paper course” the previous summer.
That Swahili course was one of roughly 185 classes disguised as lecture-style but had never met, had no instructor and only required a paper at the end.
Lee’s request sparked an emoticon-laced exchange, and Nyang’oro offered to make a different class, AFAM 398 available in the summer of 2010. UNC’s registration records show such a class was offered that summer, with two students enrolled, at least one an athlete.
Evrard wrote to the NCAA that former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein’s extensive investigation did not find the class to be bogus. Evrard cited a section in Wainstein’s report that listed the bogus classes Nyang’oro created and a spreadsheet Wainstein’s team created that was supposed to list all of the known bogus classes. That AFAM 398 class isn’t identified in either.
“...AFAM 398 was not identified by Mr. Wainstein as an independent study class, a paper class or a bifurcated class,” Evrard wrote. The bifurcated classes were actual lecture classes, but students (mostly athletes) were allowed to enroll without attending, and were given high grades if they turned in a paper.
Joseph Jay, the lead attorney on Wainstein’s team, confirmed to The N&O in July that AFAM 398 was actually one of the bogus classes. It had inadvertently been left off the list. It is identified as an independent study class in another section of Wainstein’s report -- the one that described Lee and Nyang’oro’s interactions regarding the class.
It’s unclear how much digging Evrard did regarding the class. His letter makes reference to Nyang’oro’s interview with UNC officials and the NCAA in August 2011 when the scandal first surfaced. But the details regarding the interview appear to be redacted. UNC and UNC system officials have denied several N&O requests for a transcript of that interview.
Some of the strongest evidence that this AFAM 398 class was bogus comes from the professor who helped launch it, Reginald Hildebrand. In 2012, when details of the classes started to emerge, he wrote an essay conveying his shock and frustration over what had happened within his department.
Hildebrand wrote that his version of the class included a lecture from a colleague and was ‘definitely not a ‘no-show.’ ” But he described a second version of the offering:
“Until I read (an early investigation into the classes), I was completely unaware that another version of the ‘AFAM Seminar’ had been offered during the summer on four occasions. I was not informed or consulted about it, and if I had been I would have said that it was pedagogically impossible to conduct that seminar adequately during a brief summer session.”
The N&O asked Evrard and UNC officials last week if they had confirmed the summer 2010 AFAM 398 class actually met – that it was a legitimate class. UNC spokesman Rick White said Evrard couldn’t discuss the case.
As for UNC, White said: “As we’ve stated previously, per NCAA by-laws, we cannot comment further on the NCAA investigation.”