Former UNC professor will plead not guilty to felony charge

Dec. 04, 2013 @ 02:38 AM

HILLSBOROUGH — The former professor at the center of an academic scandal involving athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will plead not guilty to a felony fraud charge, his attorney said Tuesday.

Julius Nyang'oro, a former chairman of the school's Department of African and Afro-American Studies, is "going to contest these charges," attorney Bill Thomas said, calling it an "unfortunate decision" to prosecute his client.

Thomas commented after Nyang'oro, who was accused of receiving $12,000 for a lecture course while holding no classes, made his first court appearance in an Orange County courtroom. Nyang'oro had turned himself in to authorities earlier Tuesday and was released on a $30,000 bond.

District Court Judge James Bryan said Nyang'oro is accused of attaining property by false pretense in a period dating from June 16, 2011, to July 31, 2011. A grand jury indicted him Monday.

Nyang'oro resigned as department chairman in 2011 during a campus investigation that reported finding certain classes in the department that instructors did not teach, undocumented grade changes and faked faculty signatures on some grade reports. He retired in 2012.

The scandal contributed to the departure of football coach Butch Davis and the resignation of the chancellor, Holden Thorp.

Orange County District Attorney James Woodall said the professor's 2011 summer course was supposed to have had regular class meetings. But he said Nyang'oro instead ran an independent study class that required students to write papers but not show up. The school found that the course, a late addition to the schedule, had an enrollment of 18 football players and one former football player.

A campus investigation into academic fraud released last year blamed the scandal solely on Nyang'oro and a department administrator who also has retired. The investigation, led by former Gov. Jim Martin, concluded no other faculty or members of the athletic department were involved.

Nyang'oro could face up to 10 months in prison if convicted. The university said it recouped the $12,000 from his final paycheck.