Probe finds UNC academic fraud started earlier
CHAPEL HILL — A months-long investigation of academic fraud at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill finds the problems were confined to wrongdoing by the former chairman and an administrator of the school's African studies department and didn't involve other faculty or members of the athletic department, according to a report released Thursday. The report also finds that the problems go back a decade earlier than previously uncovered.
The investigation led by former Gov. Jim Martin said the university's Department of African and Afro-American Studies remained at the heart of the two-year athletic and academic scandal that has contributed to the departure of football coach Butch Davis and resignation of Chancellor Holden Thorp.
"We came into this with a lot of skepticism. We thought we would find a lot more than we found," said Raina Rose Tagle, a partner at the Washington-area academic consulting firm Baker Tilley that assisted Martin.
No other university academic departments were found to have problem courses, but the investigation found the problems in the African studies department began in 1997, Martin said. Former African studies chairman Julius Nyang'oro and department administrator Deborah Crowder, both of whom have since retired, were identified in a previous report as carrying out the academic fraud and were solely assigned blame in Martin's report. Neither responded to requests to be interviewed for the investigation, the report said.
No other faculty member was responsible for wrongdoing, Martin said. The probe found unauthorized grade changes that falsely identified eight other professors as teaching the classes.
"Was it pervasive across this department? No, it was isolated to no more than two officials. Did it extend to other departments? No, it was isolated within this one department. It did not metastasize," Martin told a special meeting of the campus trustees. "We were asked to get to the bottom of academic misconduct. We've done everything in our power to do so."
The probe was launched after the disclosure of the academic transcript of former UNC-Chapel Hill football star and basketball player Julius Peppers. Peppers, who left the university in 2002 to enter the NFL, earned Bs or better in African studies classes but poor grades in many of his other classes. An earlier probe found irregularities dating from 2007 in 54 courses where instructors did not teach, grades were changed and faculty signatures were faked on grade reports.
But Martin said flatly there was no evidence the university's athletics department pushed students into courses with known irregularities that would allow athletes to remain eligible for competition.
"This was not an athletic scandal. It was an academic scandal, which is worse. But it was isolated," he said. "There was no coach that knew anything about this. They didn't need to know. That was not their job."
Davis' lawyer, Jon Sasser, issued a statement saying the report cleared the football coach's reputation.
Martin's report "found that these practices were set in place a decade before Butch Davis arrived in Chapel Hill," Sasser said. Davis was hired to coach the Tar Heels in late 2006.
The NCAA sanctioned the football program in March with a one-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions for improper benefits and academic misconduct. The NCAA and school had jointly investigated some of the academic problems last year.
The NCAA reviewed irregularities in the African studies department after a campus probe in May found 54 problem classes between 2007 and 2011. The collegiate sports oversight body told university officials in August it had found no new rules violations.
The university submitted Martin's report to the NCAA on Thursday, athletics director Bubba Cunningham said. NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.
Cunningham — whose arrival in Chapel Hill last fall to replace Dick Baddour was another result of the athletic and academic trouble — said the report and time will help the school to restore its reputation for academic quality, athletic excellence and integrity.
Martin said unauthorized grade changes in the department were not limited to student-athletes. He also told trustees it appeared the department was trying to enlarge enrollment to increase faculty positions. The academic misconduct began almost immediately after African studies program was recognized as a stand-alone department, the report said.
Except for a handful of examples, athletes didn't flock to the irregular African studies courses and beneficial grade changes "do not appear to be isolated or reserved for student-athletes," the report said. Enrollments in the African studies courses that required little more than a final term paper were not restricted to student-athletes.
"The typical proportion of student-athletes was on the order of 30 percent, which arguably is not out of line, considering the personal interest of some athletes in these topics. That point would appear to satisfy one NCAA requirement that courses offered to student athletes must also be offered to non-athletes, and vice versa," the report said.
Investigators flagged 720 courses in six other academic departments because they shared characteristics like the problem African studies courses — for example, one instructor responsible for much more than the norm of two or three courses per term, lack of a defined meeting time or place, or missing a named instructor. In each case, investigators were able to find innocent explanations for the courses in Romance Languages, Exercise and Sports Science, Drama, Naval Sciences, Communications Studies and Linguistics, Martin said.
Martin, a former congressman and chemistry professor at Davidson College, was assisted by consultants practiced in academic investigations. They reported examining all 172,580 course sections with undergraduate students enrolled over an 18-year period from the fall 1994 term through second this past summer term. The review looked at nearly 13,000 instructors teaching nearly 119,000 students.
State Bureau of Investigation agents are continuing their criminal investigation in consultation with a local prosecutor who wants to know whether the university was defrauded for teaching that wasn't delivered.