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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Academic Review Panel supports University’s response

The UNC Board of Governors Academic Review Panel is satisfied that the University has adequately addressed academic problems uncovered during investigations into some African and Afro-American studies courses.

The five-member panel, which UNC President Tom Ross commissioned to review the University’s response to the academic issues, affirmed the findings and actions stemming from five previous reviews that examined the scope of the problems.

The panel found that at the center of these previous reviews were academic improprieties clearly traceable to the actions of two people within the department: former chair Julius Nyang’oro and former administrative assistant Deborah Crowder, both of whom have retired. (The reports of the previous campus and independent investigations are on the Academic Review website).

In presenting its findings to the full BOG on Feb. 7, the review panel said it was troubling that anomalous courses had been offered in the department for so long without being detected. It blamed imperfect institutional processes and systems for the University’s failure to discover and put a halt to the irregular courses and unauthorized grading practices when they occurred.

“It was as if the department chair was a king with a fiefdom, and no one challenged it,” panel member James Deal said.

Panel Chair Louis Bissette asked, “Has every question about what happened and why been answered? No, we don’t have all the answers, and it’s still difficult for us to comprehend why no one came forward to try to stop this behavior in all that time.

“But five reviews and this one show that the UNC-Chapel Hill campus has conducted a thorough and diligent review, and we believe the processes and procedures the campus has put in place will address making sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The panel also recommended that all UNC system campuses consider implementing Carolina’s new departmental governance structures, monitoring systems and review practices to help bolster academic integrity system-wide.

“We’d like to shift the focus to making sure an academic scandal like this never happens again – anywhere,” Bissette said.

The panel talked about the breakdown of student-athletes and non-athletes in the 172 anomalous courses offered in African and Afro-American studies from fall 2001 through the second summer session of 2012 (the time period data was available for student-athlete enrollment), based on the analysis conducted by management consulting firm Baker Tilly.

Overall, 44.9 percent of the total student enrollments in these courses were student-athletes, with 55.1 percent non-athletes.

A similarly distributed cluster grouping of 172 courses that had been cleared of any irregularity showed an enrollment breakdown of 48.9 percent student-athletes and 51.1 percent non-athletes, the Academic Review Panel report said.

Regardless of the course composition, “it is inexcusable for any student to be deprived of a meaningful education at UNC-Chapel Hill,” Bissette said.

While officials and investigators may never know whether student-athletes were advised to enroll in the irregular courses as a way to boost their grade-point average and maintain eligibility, he said, the panel found no evidence to support a conspiracy or collusion between the Department of Athletics and the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA).

“What’s clear is that many students enrolled in these courses expecting to receive good grades with very little effort,” Bissette said.

Carolina officials have moved the ASPSA reporting structure solely under Academic Affairs, and Ross has said that all UNC campuses should do the same.

Overall, BOG members’ response to the review panel’s findings was positive – and the consensus was that it was important to move forward.

But BOG member Burley Mitchell said that even without a “smoking gun,” it was inconceivable that only two people were culpable. He called the long-undetected situation a fraudulent academic and athletics problem to the extreme.

“It was a mess and a sad part of the history of this great university,” Mitchell said, “but it’s time to move on.”

BOG Chair Peter Hans thanked the panel for its work and said the academic review was complete unless the pending SBI investigation uncovers further evidence of wrongdoing. In that case, Hans said, the BOG would act decisively.

To read the Academic Review Panel’s report, see