Investigation Shows Staggering Academic Fraud at UNC


An independent study into academic fraud at UNC-Chapel Hill was released this week showing massive systematic academic fraud, prompting Chancellor Carol Folt to announce that all current university staff that is implicated in the investigation will be held accountable by termination or disciplinary review.

Dan Kane and Jane Stancill, writing for the News & Observer, report that a system of “paper classes” had been pushed by athletic counselors in order for athletes to remain eligible to play. The scheme had been in place for 18 years and included inflating grades, not requiring class time learning, plagiarism, bogus term papers, and no actual professor-student interaction.

A new culprit was found during the investigation: a program known as the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes. The counselors in the program were led by Deborah Crowder, manager for the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. There were academic and athletic officials who knew about the classes, yet no action was taken.

Kenneth Wainstein, a former US Justice Department official, led the investigation and his report has been sent to the NCAA.

“The bad actions of a very few and inaction of many more failed our students, faculty and staff and undermined our institution,” Folt said. She called it an “inexcusable betrayal of our values.”

At least five academic counselors for athletes depended on Crowder to make athletes remain academically eligible. Crowder expected, Professor Julius Nyang’oro, former chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department, to turn a blind eye to her “paper classes”, all of which were in courses in Nyang’oro’s department. Nyang’oro was not reviewed for his academic performance for more than 20 years.

Wainstein says there was no evidence, however, that athletic coaches were involved in initiating the sham classes. UNC President Tom Ross said:

“From the beginning I think the university has taken the position that these classes started in an academic department by a person employed in the academic side of the university,” Ross said. “Subsequent to that, athletics took advantage of that.”

In 2009, when Crowder retired, the football team’s overall GPA plummeted. Yet two other investigations, one led by former Gov. Jim Martin, concluded that the academic fraud lacked an athletic motive. Wainstein did say:

“We found no evidence that the higher levels of the University tried in any way to obscure the facts or the magnitude of this situation,” the report said. “To the extent there were times of delay or equivocation in their response to this controversy, we largely attribute that to insufficient appreciation of the scale of the problem, an understandable lack of experience with this sort of institutional crisis and some lingering disbelief that such misconduct could have occurred at Chapel Hill.”

Sports Illustrated reports that Crowder believed that UNC’s athletes were not being appropriately supported by the university. Nyang’oro also based his agreement with Crowder about the classes on his sorrow at seeing two student athletes who left the university because of their grades. One was sent to prison, and one was shot and killed. The article quotes Folt as saying:

“It is a case where you have bad actions of a few and inaction of many more.It is shocking and people are taking full responsibility.”

Basketball coach Roy Williams, after becoming uncomfortable with the classes’ nature, began to encourage his players to stay away from the courses in question. One of his former players, Rashad McCants, did not speak with Wainstein during his investigation, but did accuse UNC of academic fraud earlier this year. According to SI, it is not known when the NCAA investigation will be completed.

A slide presentation was shown to the UNC football staff in November of 2009 that discussed the “shadow curriculum”, according to Chuck Culpepper, reporting for The Washington Post. It said it would no longer exist since its “designer” had retired. Counselors from the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes shared that they had put athletes in classes in which:

— They didn’t go to class
— They didn’t take notes or have to stay awake
— They didn’t have to meet with professors
— They didn’t have to pay attention or necessarily engage with the material.

The slide then warned in capital letters: “THESE NO LONGER EXIST,” indicating that an effective mechanism for keeping athletes academically eligible had subsided. The North Carolina head football coach at the time, Butch Davis, denied in Wainstein’s report that he could remember the slide.

At times, ASPSA staff members sent Crowder lists of players to be enrolled in the “paper classes”, along with the grades the athlete needed to make to maintain eligibility. In the men’s basketball program, 39 players in 2005 were in or were suspected of being in lecture classes that never met.