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UNC Investigation into African-American Studies Department Finds Academic Fraud

Footnote to the NCAA Investigation.

Via the N&O and Dan Kane.

An internal investigation into UNC-Chapel Hill’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies has found evidence of academic fraud involving more than 50 classes that range from no-show professors to unauthorized grade changes for students.

One of the no-show classes is the Swahili course taken by former football player Michael McAdoo that prompted NCAA findings of impermissible tutoring, and drew more controversy when the final paper he submitted was found to have been heavily plagiarized.

The investigation found many of the suspect classes were taught in the summer by former department chairman Julius Nyang’oro, who resigned from that post in September. The university now says Nyang’oro, 57, who was the department’s first-ever chairman, is retiring July 1.

The report evolved from the athletic and academic scandal that engulfed UNC’s football team, but it said there is no evidence that student-athletes received more favorable treatment than students who were not athletes. It also said that no student received a grade without doing course work.

But the 10-page report said the findings are a blow to the university’s academic integrity. The findings were so serious that the university consulted with the district attorney and the SBI about investigating forgery allegations, as some professors said their signatures were forged in documents certifying that they had taught some of the classes in question. Professors also said they had not authorized grade changes for students that the department submitted to the registrar’s office.

Law enforcement officials declined to investigate because they did not think the forgeries, if proven, rose to the level of criminal activity.

You know it has reached a bad place when the school asks state law enforcement for a determination of potential criminal charges for forgery.

Most of this colossal mess revolves around Julius Nyang'oro, the former department chair, who was professor for the infamous plagiarized paper done by Michael McAdoo.

But the plagiarism was just the beginning of the questions for Nyang’oro, who was the department’s first chairman when it was formed 20 years ago.

The N&O later obtained a partial academic transcript of Marvin Austin, another football player caught up in the football scandal. The transcript showed that Austin took an upper-level summer class from Nyang’oro before Austin began his first full semester as a freshman, and before he had taken a remedial writing class. Nyang’oro gave Austin a B-plus on the course.

Nyang’oro could not produce a syllabus for that class, Bioethics in Afro-American Studies, or the Swahili class that McAdoo took. That was another red flag, particularly because syllabi provided by other professors teaching intermediate Swahili focused on reading and writing in Swahili, not writing papers about Swahili culture in English.

Nyang’oro told the university investigators he did not teach the Swahili class. The plagiarized paper McAdoo submitted lists Nyang’oro’s name as the course professor. The investigation found it was one of nine classes in which there is no evidence that any professor "actually supervised the course and graded the work, all though grade rolls were signed and submitted." Other professors who were listed on grade rolls for those classes said their names were forged on course documents.

McAdoo was one of 59 students taking those classes.

The investigation found 45 other courses, most of them during summer sessions, in which Nyang’oro was the instructor of record but there was little evidence of teaching. The students would provide an assignment and grade the class paper, "but engaged in limited or no classroom or other instructional contact with students." Austin’s class was one of them, Hartlyn said.

The report also found a "strikingly high" percentage of cases in Nyang’oro’s classes in which temporary grades were converted to permanent ones. Several other faculty said they had not authorized grade changes for students.

In other words, Nyang'oro was engaging in the time honored tradition of drawing a paycheck and not actually doing his job. It should be noted that while his is a blow against UNC's academic integrity as an institution, it is not an NCAA issue or even necessarily a football issue for that matter. These suspect classes were available to anyone and according to the report, these classes make up only a small percentage of that classes offered in this department.

Dan Kane goes on to try and make it about the athletic department in his "I'm not saying, I'm just saying" sort of way which is prerogative. There is no evidence UNC academic advisors were steering players to Nyang'oro's class because they knew how he was conducting them. Are athletes being steered to easier classes? I am sure they are, as is the case at other schools, lest our lupine brothers start tossing rocks from the front porch of their own glass house. That is not a justification of the practice, mind you, just a reminder of how the sausage gets made at BCS-level football programs. What went on with Nyang'oro was egregious in nature but again, it is confined to a limited number of classes and it's not like these were the only classes players were taking. Rival fans will put forth the notion that these classes were representative of the entire course load for UNC athletes which is simply not the case.

The bottom line here is, the problems appear to be confined mostly to one professor who is retiring in a little less than two months. UNC discovered the issue and is dealing with it accordingly. As with the NCAA scandal, it hurts the reputation of the school but as long as steps are taken to address the root cause, the damage can ultimately be repaired.