I Want to Hear from the Other 14 AFAM Professors

UNC wrapped up its internal investigation of the African and Afro-American Studies department that was instigated by Michael McAdoo's unnoticed plagiarism on Friday. It's definitely a good news/bad news situation. Good news: there doesn't appear to be any specific favoritism involving athletes. Bad news: there was rampant shenanigans going on, including between 52 classes on record where the professor never or only rarely showed up in class, grades changed after the fact, signatures forged, and dodgy independent studies. Good news: the problem had actually been resolved before the investigation began. Bad news: this was apparently because the long-term administrator, Debbie Crowder retired in 2009, after which the problems mysteriously stopped. Crowder declined to speak with the investigators, and there's really nothing they can do.

The damage is surprisingly small. The chair of the department, Julius Nyang'oro (also the professor who missed McAdoo's paper swiping) was either extremely negligent in running his department or actively abetting his administrator in subverting the educational process. He is retiring effective July 1, 2012. The other fourteen tenure or tenure-track professors all appear to be unaware of what was going on; there are nine aberrant courses taught by professors other than Nyang'oro, and the class roll signatures for all nine were forged.

And to be honest, it's the response from those fourteen professors that I'm going to be most interested in, at least the ones who already have tenure. Because if I was a member of that department's faculty, I would be pissed. The department has been drawn through the mud, it's perilously close to being viewed as a joke. Reputation is an academic's livelihood, and I'd expect everyone associated with AFAM at UNC to take a hit. And I'd really like one of them to speak out.

And not with standard, vetted talk of a disappointment and the like. I believe those fourteen professors take pride in their work and teach as rigorously as any other academic on campus. And their department is making headlines like this. If I were them, I'd be pitching a fit. I'd be cracking down. I wouldn't stand for this.

To quote the conclusion of the report:

While presenting this report in as careful and impartial a manner as possible, we cannot conclude without emphasizing the acute dismay that we, as UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, felt as we uncovered the practices summarized here. We regret that we cannot assign with complete confidence the responsibility for the unprofessional and in some cases professionally unethical actions uncovered by our investigation. We are convinced that, in many instances noted in this report, the educational experience of some students as well as their access to faculty instruction and consultation was compromised for a period of several years, which could extend before 2007, he start of the period examined in our report. The evidence we reviewed indicates that between 2007 and 2011 the vast majority of courses offered in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies were not compromised in the ways outlined in this report. Yet the unprofessional or unethical actions noted in this report risk damaging the professional reputations of the faculty in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies as a whole.

It's time someone spoke out.

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