College finishes reviews prompted by some irregular classes
The College of Arts and Sciences has completed two reviews launched last fall when questions were raised about some irregularly taught courses in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies.
A review of courses taught in the department found 54 questionable classes among 616 offered between summer 2007 and summer 2011. According to the review, those courses appeared to be linked to two people: Professor Julius Nyang’oro, who resigned as the department’s first chair last August and will retire July 1, and former department administrator Deborah Crowder, who retired in September 2009 and declined to cooperate with the University’s investigation.
In releasing the full May 4 departmental report without redactions, Chancellor Holden Thorp invoked his statutory right to release confidential personnel information essential to maintaining the integrity of the University.
“It was important for the campus community and the public that we release our findings from the review, and ask the hard questions necessary to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.
The second review was a college-wide assessment of independent study practices led by senior associate dean Bobbi Owen that produced recommendations for consistent policies that department chairs will begin to implement next fall. (To view both reports, along with an email about them to college faculty from Dean Karen Gil, see go.unc.edu/Zb39D).
Because many course issues occurred during summer sessions, the Summer School also has set new policies, practices and strategies to monitor summer teaching assignments.
Media reports about courses taken by student-athletes prompted the University to notify the NCAA and form an internal working group, which reviewed records focusing on work by student-athletes who took multiple classes in the department.
The working group found no evidence that students receiving a grade had not submitted written work, that student-athletes received more favorable treatment than other students, or that department employees involved in the courses benefited beyond standard University compensation.
The working group found anomalies with some courses, which then led to the departmental review by senior associate deans Jonathan Hartlyn and William Andrews.
Key findings of their review of courses during the four-year period included:
- Nine aberrant courses. Evidence showed students completed written work, submitted it and received grades. But faculty did not appear to have supervised the course or graded work – even though grade rolls were signed or submitted. Grade rolls from these courses were submitted by the department with faculty signatures that appeared to be forged.
- Forty-five other courses that were either aberrant or taught irregularly – meaning an instructor provided an assignment and appeared to have graded a resulting paper, but with limited or no classroom or other instructional contact.
- Lax department practices and record keeping involving independent study courses, temporary grades later converted to permanent grades and unauthorized grade changes.
- The vast majority of the course irregularities occurred before fall 2009, the review found. End-of-semester data released last week showed 686 student enrollments in the 54 questionable courses. (Enrollments are for each course; not unique students.) Forty-two percent of those enrollments were students who were not athletes, 3 percent were men’s basketball players, 26 percent were football players, and 19 percent were Olympic sports athletes.
Overall, the department offered 616 courses, accounting for 14,234 student enrollments. Less than 5 percent of the department’s total student enrollments over the four years involved the questionable courses.
The review “exposed numerous violations of professional trust, affecting the relationship of faculty and students and the relationships among faculty,” Hartlyn and Andrews wrote. “These violations have undermined the educational experience of a number of students (and) have the potential to generate unfounded doubt and mistrust toward the department and its faculty …”
Thorp, Gil and the review authors emphasized the importance of African and Afro-American studies to the campus community.
“Under the leadership of interim department chair Evelyne Huber and new chair Eunice Sahle, the department is in a good position,” Thorp said.
Sahle, who became African and Afro-American studies chair earlier this year after Huber served last fall in an interim capacity, has put new policies and procedures in place for independent studies, course syllabi, exams and grading. She also has begun implementing a new departmental governance structure.
Gil, in her message to college faculty, wrote: “The department’s talented and dedicated faculty make many contributions to the University’s research, teaching and service mission. As a result of these reviews and follow-up actions, the policies of the department and the college have been strengthened to ensure consistent standards for academic excellence and integrity.”
The University’s new student records database already has made it possible for the college to conduct annual reviews of teaching assignments.
Gil said the senior associate deans in her office had reviewed teaching assignments and independent study enrollments across the college and found no similar problems to those identified in the department’s review of African and Afro-American studies.