Crowder’s Lawyer: AFAM Classes Were a ‘Safety Net’

As the University prepares to respond to the NCAA’s third notice of allegations in the ongoing negotiations over athletics and academics issues, Deborah Crowder ’75 has acknowledged that it was she who reviewed and graded paper-only classes in the then-department of African and Afro-American studies.

In a March 8 affidavit, Crowder insisted that the classes were academically rigorous and that they were intended to “help all students, not to provide any special assistance to athletes.”

Her lawyer described the classes — which are at the center of the NCAA’s allegations that UNC ran a scheme designed to help athletes stay academically eligible to compete — “as a safety net of sorts for any student — whether athlete or non-athlete — who was facing a bureaucratic or personal problem that threatened to interfere with their education.”

During the more than six years the NCAA has been investigating UNC, Crowder has remained silent except for private interviews with outside investigator Kenneth Wainstein, with whom she talked as part of an agreement to avoid criminal prosecution. Her affidavit came with a letter from Elliot S. Abrams ’08, of the firm of Cheshire Parker Schneider & Bryan, addressed to the NCAA’s vice president of enforcement. Abrams copied other NCAA officials, Chancellor Carol L. Folt and Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham.

Abrams’ letter said Crowder is “considering cooperating in the investigation.” It details the genesis of the paper classes, which Crowder says were started by the former department chair, Julius Nyang’oro, and then gradually turned over to her to administer because Nyang’oro was away from the campus so often. Crowder was the department manager, not a member of the faculty.

The letter said, “Over time, advisors would come to see Professor Nyang’oro’s courses” as a safety net.

It declared that the “customized courses violated no official university policy. Professors at [UNC] have wide latitude to provide educational opportunities to students. Ms. Crowder knows of no university policies that prohibited Professor Nyang’oro from offering these courses, and she believes none existed.” It added that “writing a 15- or 20-page paper is a strenuous task.”

Crowder’s affidavit stated: “All students had access to these courses in the same manner — that is, by working with their academic advisors. Athletes and non-athletes were treated the same with respect to all material aspects of the courses — that is, course requirements, course access, and course grading.”

It also said that “it is not true that only athletics advisors proposed students for enrollment in the courses.” It says Crowder worked with “all academic advisors … to enroll students that they proposed.”

Several investigations have concluded that over an 18-year period the department offered classes that had no lectures and no attendance requirement — just a single research paper. Although any student could enroll in the classes, more than 45 percent of the total enrollment was found to be varsity athletes. The NCAA subsequently charged the University with a lack of institutional control, charged that former philosophy professor Jan Boxill knowingly provided improper benefits to athletes, and cited Nyang’oro and Crowder for violating the NCAA principles of ethical conduct when they failed to furnish information relevant to an investigation when asked to do so by the NCAA enforcement staff and the University.

Twenty-one months have passed since the NCAA’s first notice of allegations. After the third notice was received in mid-December, the University’s lawyers responded in part that the University was “examining the existing evidence to determine whether additional investigation may be needed.”

Joel Curran ’86, vice chancellor of University communications, said on March 10 in response to news of Crowder’s affidavit: “We appreciate Ms. Crowder’s willingness to share her experience and to consider participating in the NCAA’s joint investigation. We have been encouraging her to do so since 2011 when the NCAA began examining the academic irregularities.”


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