Deborah Crowder ’75, the office manager for the former department of African and Afro-American studies, will not be charged in the academic fraud case being pursued by the Orange County district attorney.
James Woodall ’82 (AB, ’85 JD) who has led an investigation that brought an indictment against Crowder’s former boss, Professor Julius Nyang’oro, said Tuesday that he thought that Crowder’s cooperation with a new probe by an outside attorney — to which Crowder has agreed — was the best way to get at what led to the creation of no-show classes that show a disproportionate enrollment of athletes. Woodall said his investigation never was intended to go in that direction because it did not appear to involve criminal activity.
Woodall’s work, done by the State Bureau of Investigation, focused on whether Nyang’oro obtained property by false pretenses — the salary he was to have been paid for classes he did not teach.
Woodall said that Crowder has “cooperated from the start of the investigation. So I took all the factors into account, and I believe that, in this case, the proper course is not to charge her with any crimes.”
Woodall said at the time of Nyang’oro’s arrest in December that a second person could be charged. Speculation centered on Crowder — who retired from UNC in 2009 — since organization of the suspect classes had pointed toward her.
Former Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 also mentioned Crowder in an interview last summer in response to a question of whether the fraud case constituted an athletics as well as an academic scandal.
“When you get down to the precise details of what happened,” Thorp said, “what happened is something that was highly unprofessional and highly unethical and should have been caught sooner, and athletics participated in it because it worked for their schedules and because they had plenty of different ways to find out about it, not the least of which was the fact that Debbie Crowder was personally connected to a lot of people in athletics. So, whether that makes it an athletics scandal or not is up to different people to interpret. But we spent two years digging around, and nobody’s turned up one piece of evidence that suggests that somebody in the athletics department in 1996, or whenever it started, called over to AFAM and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you start a scheme that would benefit our players?’ ”
Now, Kenneth L. Wainstein, a 19-year veteran of the U.S. Justice Department, has been retained by the University to look deeper into questions about the relationship between athletics and academics. Wainstein will have access to Woodall’s information, and he has been charged by Chancellor Carol L. Folt to pursue the matter wherever the facts take him.
Woodall said that Crowder has continued cooperating with him and that she has agreed to cooperate with Wainstein as the probe moves forward.
“There were many occasions in this investigation where we looked at information and decided there’s no reasonable likelihood we’re going to find any criminal activity here, so we’re not going to continue investigating this avenue of inquiry,” he said. “However, if I had been doing an investigation into academic improprieties, I would have gone down those avenues.”
Crowder’s attorney, Brian Vick of Williams Mullen in Raleigh, said in a prepared statement: “Debby looks forward to providing Mr. Wainstein her full and complete cooperation and will answer any and all questions that he may have for her. She believes that it is important for the full and unvarnished truth to come out and intends to provide Mr. Wainstein with as much knowledge as she has about the independent study classes that were offered during her tenure with the Department of African and Afro-Studies at UNC.”
In an interview, Vick said that he and Woodall had had a number of discussions that helped lead to Woodall’s decision not to charge. Vick said Crowder’s agreement to cooperate probably would be her only disclosure. “She is a very private person,” he said, who is ready for the spotlight to move elsewhere.
Crowder managed the AFAM office from its inception. AFAM became an academic department in 1997.
“She was aware of what happened and what went on in the department,” Vick said. He said she agreed to cooperate after “we were comfortable it was going to be an independent and objective look at what happened.” She would not have cooperated, he said, if they had thought it would be “a whitewash or a witch hunt.”
Woodall said he could not disclose what Crowder told investigators but said there likely will not be any more arrests in this case. “I never say never because at any time new information can come to light,” he said. “But based on what I know today, I don’t anticipate any other charges.”
University officials have said they believe Nyang’oro and Crowder were the only people culpable in the incidents of fraud.
Previous examinations of what went on in the department uncovered irregularities in more than 50 classes, many of which had been taught in summer sessions by Nyang’oro. The initial in-house investigation covered the period of the summer of 2007 through summer 2011. In the period summer 2007 to summer 2009, nine classes containing 59 students were found to be “aberrant” — showing, in the words of a report, “no evidence that the faculty member listed as instructor of record or any other faculty member actually supervised the course and graded the work, although grade rolls were signed and submitted.”
Forty-three other courses were found to be either aberrant or were “taught irregularly” — in other words, “the instructor provided an assignment and evidently graded the resultant paper but engaged in limited or no classroom or other instructional contact with the student.”
Investigations of records have found that in the summer of 2011, 18 football players and one former player had made up the entire enrollment of an AFAM class that was opened for enrollment on the eve of the session’s start, and Nyang’oro did not show up to teach. Further, academic advisers for the football program knew that despite the course listing as lecture-format, there would be an assigned term paper but no instruction.
In the decade starting in 2001, athletes were found to have accounted for 45 percent of the suspect classes (athletes make up less than 5 percent of undergraduates).
Nyang’oro retired in July 2012 and has had nothing to say publicly about the scandal. He is scheduled for a court appearance in April.