Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Tar Heel Blues: The University of North Carolina Struggles to Recover amid Reports of Academic Irregularities

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Tar Heel Blues: The University of North Carolina Struggles to Recover amid Reports of Academic Irregularities

Article excerpt

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Several months after the results of an independent probe into academic irregularities at the flagship campus of the University of North Carolina were released to the public, UNC-Chapel Hill is still reeling from the scope of the scandal that catapulted it into national news headlines for all the wrong reasons.

A detailed report released last October by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein revealed that two officials--Dr. Julius Nyang'oro and Deborah Crowder--in what was formerly known as the African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department were largely responsible for offering hundreds of irregular classes at UNC-Chapel Hill between 1993 and 2011.

Wainstein concluded that these "paper classes" had no class attendance requirement or faculty involvement and were administered by Crowder, a non-faculty administrator, without the knowledge or consent of other faculty members within the department.

Over a period that spanned 18 years, the irregular classes affected nearly 3,100 students--many of whom were student-athletes who were steered into the classes by counselors in the Academic Support Program for student-athletes who attempted to help these student-athletes remain academically eligible to play collegiate sports.

Wainsteins investigation found no indication of wrongdoing in any academic departments beyond AFAM and that the reported wrongdoing ended in 2011. Still, he concluded that many UNC personnel were aware of red flags, yet did not ask questions and there was a failure of meaningful oversight by top officials at the university.

"Mr. Wainstein has found that the wrongdoing at Carolina lasted much longer and affected more students than previously known. The bad actions of a few and the inaction of others failed the university's students, faculty and alumni, and undermined the institution as a whole," says UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L. Folt. "This conduct could and should have been stopped much earlier by individuals in positions of influence and oversight, and others could have sounded the alarm more forcefully"

Taking action

In the wake of the report, Folt and other UNC officials pledged numerous reforms, including terminating or commencing disciplinary action against nine current UNC employees who were part of the scandal and developing a detailed plan to stabilize the Department of African, African-American and Diaspora Studies, which has lost majors and credibility in light of the nationwide attention.

In October, Dr. Jeanette Boxill--a philosophy professor who allegedly directed women basketball players that she advised into the fake classes--was terminated by the university. She is appealing.

Last month, African studies lecturer Tim McMillian resigned and two other lower-level staffers were fired.

"I apologize first to the students who entrusted us with their education and took these courses. You deserved so much better from your university, and we will do everything we can to make it right," said Folt. "I also want to apologize to the Carolina community--you have been hurt both directly and indirectly by this wrongdoing, even though you had no knowledge or responsibility for it, and many of you were not even here when most or all of it occurred. …

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