The University has received a verbal notice that the NCAA is reopening its 2011 examination of academic irregularities and their relationship to athletics, according to a statement released Monday by Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham.
This move resulted, according to Cunningham’s statement, from the NCAA determining that “additional people with information and others who were previously uncooperative might now be willing to speak with the enforcement staff.”
Over the past three years, UNC has undertaken a series of reviews and investigations into academic irregularities. The most recent, and current, investigation opened in February, when former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein was hired by the University to look into issues surrounding academic fraud and its relationship to athletics. The University instructed Wainstein to share relevant information directly and confidentially with the NCAA. Ten days before the NCAA notice was announced by Cunningham, Wainstein told the UNC System Board of Governors that he hoped his work could be finished by this fall.
Wainstein, who was accompanied by two of his assistants, did not reveal any findings to the BOG — and he emphasized that neither is he sharing any findings with Carolina officials. He said his team had access to some information that was not available to previous investigators, and he later confirmed he had been sharing findings with the NCAA.
“None of those investigations has had access to really the most critical information of anybody trying to investigate this set of circumstances,” he said. Wainstein has access to what the State Bureau of Investigation found in its criminal probe of Julius Nyang’oro, the former chair of what was then the department of African and Afro-America studies.
Wainstein also has had the cooperation of Nyang’oro’s former assistant, Deborah Crowder ’75. After talking to the Board of Governors, Wainstein told members of the media that Nyang’oro also was cooperating.
As a result of that cooperation, Orange County District Attorney James Woodall ’82 (AB, ’85 JD) said he was considering dropping the criminal charge against Nyang’oro. “I believe what he has done to help with the investigation is simply more important than putting a man on probation,” Woodall said. “I think he has provided Wainstein with what he considers real critical information in his investigation that he could not get from anybody else in a case where, frankly, the money’s been paid back.”
Wainstein said his team has interviewed more than 80 people, some more than once, and has examined some 1.5 million emails and other electronic documents. The team has looked at thousands of student records, including transcripts.
The NCAA statement read, in part: “As with any case, the NCAA enforcement staff makes clear it will revisit the matter if additional information becomes available. After determining that additional people with information and others who were previously uncooperative might be willing to speak with the enforcement staff, the NCAA has reopened its investigation. The enforcement staff is exploring this new information to ensure an exhaustive investigation is conducted based on all available information. The NCAA will not comment further to protect the integrity of the investigation.”
Wainstein’s investigation is focused on the so-called “paper classes” in AFAM now classified as academically fraudulent, primarily because they consisted of term papers with no presence by faculty. He has asked what were the classes, how were they designed, how did they deviate from normal classes — even normal independent studies classes; and how long had this been going on, who was behind their creation, was anyone in the administration outside AFAM involved, how much work did students really do, did they interact with professors and did students get improper assistance.
Wainstein said he also seeks to know about any role the athletics department played — did athletics help create and maintain the system of fraudulent classes or encourage the AFAM department to do so, and did athletics urge athletes to take the classes, and if so, why. He said he wants to know whether any UNC employees were aware of any scheme, and if so, what was the level of knowledge among faculty, advisers, people in athletics and others.
Nyang’oro has been implicated in multiple investigations for a system of classes, going back to about 1997, that have been determined to be academically fraudulent. Some of the classes required a term paper but never met with a professor. The University is looking into allegations that the AFAM department and the athletics department cooperated on the classes, possibly to help athletes maintain their academic eligibility.
Nyang’oro was charged in December with obtaining property by false pretenses, a felony, for allegedly having accepted $12,000 for a summer school class he did not teach.
At the time he was indicted last December, Nyang’oro declared his innocence and said he would explain his side of the long-running story in court. Other than that, he never has spoken publicly about the matter.
In April, the University launched a website designed as a primary source for information on the issues surrounding the relationship between varsity athletics and academics.
Carolinacommitment.unc.edu offers updates on ongoing investigations, a set of frequently asked questions that attempts to trace the events of the past three and a half years since the NCAA began investigating UNC, details of reforms already undertaken and those being considered, and an archive of reports of previous investigations. Cunningham’s statement referred to the website, adding that: “We remain committed to learning from our past so that we can move forward to building a stronger University. Consistent with NCAA protocols, we will have no further comment on this matter until the process is complete.”
The NCAA’s initial investigation concluded more than two years ago; the focus then had been on the UNC football program involving impermissible benefits and academic fraud. The case led to a postseason ban and a loss of scholarships for the football team. In early June, Rashad McCants, one of the stars of Carolina’s 2005 national basketball championship team, said that during his three years at UNC, he was steered to African and Afro-American studies classes that never met — and that that maneuver might have made the difference in his academic eligibility in the fall 2004 semester. McCants spoke to ESPN’s investigative series “Outside the Lines,” saying he believed that Coach Roy Williams ’72 knew about the system of “paper classes” in the AFAM department, a system that has been acknowledged by the University administration over the course of several investigations.
Williams vehemently denied that he knew what McCants said he did. “I strongly disagree with what Rashad has said,” Williams said. “In no way did I know about or do anything close to what he says, and I think the players whom I have coached over the years will agree with me.”
Wainstein said at a news conference after the BOG meeting that McCants had declined to be interviewed in May. Wainstein said he hoped McCants would reconsider.
Sixteen players from UNC’s 2005 team issued a statement to The Associated Press that said they were proud of their accomplishments both on and off the court, that Williams and his staff operated with “the highest level of ethics and integrity” and that their experiences were not consistent with those McCants described. Also, some of Williams’ former players from Kansas, where he coached before coming to Carolina in 2003, commented over the weekend in his defense. No former player has stepped forward to support McCants’ claims.
McCants left UNC after three years to pursue professional basketball; his projected graduation year was 2006.
Nyang’oro was the department’s first and only chair until he resigned as chair under pressure in August 2011. He retired on July 1, 2012. Later that year, the department was renamed African, African-American and diaspora studies.