NCAA Says UNC Demonstrated Lack of Institutional Control

The NCAA has charged the University with lack of institutional control in its alleged failure to monitor its former department of African-American studies and its academic support center for athletes and asserts that UNC failed to rein in both when some employees began working together to perpetrate academic fraud over an 18-year period.

In a 59-page Notice of Allegations received by UNC last week and released to the public today, the agency that governs U.S. collegiate athletics calls this a “Severe Breach of Conduct case” or “Level I violation.”

Other than coming down hard on the known principals in the matter — Julius Nyang’oro, Deborah Crowder ’75 and Jan Boxill — the letter does not mention names of UNC officials except in “exhibits” cited as evidence.

The letter does not add to speculation that the NCAA could specifically penalize UNC’s basketball or football programs or people who work in them.

Most, and possibly all, of the exhibits appear to have been taken from the report of independent counsel Kenneth Wainstein, whose investigation last year spurred the NCAA to reopen its probe of UNC.

In fact, except for how severe the NCAA thinks the violations are, there is little in the document that adds to the Wainstein information.

“We take the allegations the NCAA made about past conduct very seriously,” Chancellor Carol L. Folt and Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “This is the next step in a defined process, and we are a long way from reaching a conclusion. We will respond to the notice using facts and evidence to present a full picture of our case. Although we may identify some instances in the NCAA’s notice where we agree and others where we do not, we are committed to continue pursuing a fair and just outcome for Carolina.

“We believe the University has done everything possible to address the academic irregularities that ended in 2011 and prevent them from recurring. We have implemented more than 70 reforms and initiatives to ensure and enhance academic integrity. We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of those measures and, wherever needed, put additional safeguards in place.”

The letter and hundreds of pages of exhibits are posted at

It’s almost certain to be late this year or into 2016 before UNC knows what penalties it might face.

Cunningham said he expects the University to take the full allowable 90 days to respond to the notice of allegations — a time in which it could dispute some of them and could propose self-imposed sanctions. The NCAA Committee on Infractions then has 60 days to hold a hearing to decide whether and how to punish UNC.

Cunningham said little about the specifics of Carolina’s reaction to the allegations in a Thursday news conference, repeatedly citing inability to comment in an ongoing investigation. He said there were some with which UNC probably would agree and others it would not. He added there was “not necessarily a bombshell” in the letter.

In response to a question, Cunningham acknowledged that the protracted scandal probably has affected athletics recruiting negatively. He said he was sometimes disappointed with what had happened here and at other times disappointed with the way the saga has been portrayed to the public.

Neither Folt nor any academic officials were present at the conference.

The NCAA said the first two of five allegations “demonstrate that the institution violated the NCAA principles of institutional control and rules compliance” when it failed to monitor the activities of AFAM staff, academic counselors for athletes, and Boxill, the longtime philosophy department faculty member and former chair of the faculty who was close to the women’s basketball program as its academic adviser. Folt fired Boxill the day the Wainstein report came out, and Boxill resigned during an appeals process.

“The AFRI/AFAM department created anomalous courses that went unchecked for 18 years,” the letter said. “This allowed individuals within ASPSA [Academic Support Program for Student Athletes] to use these courses through special arrangements to maintain the eligibility of academically at-risk student-athletes, particularly in the sports of football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.

“Although the general student body also had access to the anomalous AFRI/AFAM courses, student-athletes received preferential access to these anomalous courses, enrolled in these anomalous courses at a disproportionate rate to that of the general student body and received other impermissible benefits not available to the general student body in connection with these courses.”

The NOA cited Nyang’oro, the former chair of AFAM; and administrative assistant Crowder, who ran the fraud scheme with his blessing, 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 — Nyang’oro in at least five instances and Crowder in three.

Both had previously avoided criminal prosecution by agreeing to cooperate with Wainstein.

“Certain AFRI/AFAM courses were anomalous because they were designated as lecture courses but were taught as independent study courses with little, if any, attendance requirements, minimal to no faculty interaction, lax paper writing standards and artificially high final grades,” the letter said. “In some instances, athletics academic counselors within ASPSA made special arrangements and used these courses to help ensure the eligibility of academically at-risk student-athletes. The high level of involvement by athletics academic counselors in the administration of these anomalous AFRI/AFAM courses relieved student-athletes of the academic responsibilities of a general student.”

The NCAA said that from April 2007 to July 2010, Boxill knowingly provided impermissible academic assistance and special arrangements to women’s basketball players.

Also, Tim McMillan ’80 (’82 MA,’89 PhD), a member of the AFAM faculty for 20 years, resigned his position on Dec. 31. Wainstein’s report and accompanying materials reported that McMillan knew about the scheme and helped steer students to the paper classes. UNC has not confirmed whether McMillan was fired. It did fire, however, athletics academic counselor Jamie Lee. Former Lee colleague Beth Bridger was fired from a similar job at UNC-Wilmington.

UNC removed drama professor Bobbi Owen, a former dean in the college, from the leadership of a London honors program for her involvement. And it said four others were disciplined; they never have been identified by the University.

Crowder organized 188 courses, assigned the papers, graded them with high marks that bore no correlation to the quality of the work and did not look for plagiarism.

The phony classes were disproportionately populated with varsity athletes, and athletes were steered to the classes by counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes.

Crowder operated the scheme over about 18 years. In the 12 years between 1999 and 2011, there were 3,933 enrollments in the paper classes and 47.6 percent were varsity athletes — primarily football and men’s basketball players. Athletes make up less than 5 percent of the student body.

For years, the NCAA declined to dig into the scandal. It visited the campus in fall 2011 and later said, in 2012 and 2013, that it saw no apparent violations in the fake classes. NCAA officials never gave a full explanation, but experts said the fraud would not be in the NCAA’s purview if it was open to all students and lacked any involvement by athletic personnel.

The NCAA’s posture changed in 2014 after Wainstein began investigating the fraud.

To help in its responding to the allegations, the University has retained Rick Evrard of the Bond, Schoeneck & King law firm’s suburban Kansas City office. Evrard, who was at Cunningham’s side when he spoke Thursday, worked for several years in enforcement for the NCAA. UNC also has retained Jo Potuto, who is a past chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.

On Thursday, Cunningham reiterated the University’s reform efforts in response to the scandal, citing 70 separate measures.

Independent study in the College of Arts and Sciences now is restricted to junior and senior department majors with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, faculty are limited to teaching two independent study students per academic year, and individual contracts govern study arrangements.

The Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes has stronger governance of tutoring and academic counseling for athletes, and the Summer School had tightened controls on teaching loads and missed classes by faculty (summer school is a key time for athletes who are free of in-season distractions and schedule interruptions).

The athletics department completed a comprehensive analysis that led to a new strategic plan, including hiring a liaison between academic advising and counseling and athletes, “with the clear understanding that academic functions are independent of athletics.”

The provost’s office took oversight of the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes away from the College of Arts and Sciences in mid-2013 (this reporting structure now is required of all UNC System schools).

The department now called African, African American and diaspora studies came in for more specific controls.

Over the past year, the differences between the Carolina experience for those who play the games and those who don’t have come into sharper focus.

Two committees at UNC are studying how far should Carolina go toward requiring athletes to follow rules designed for students who don’t share their time constraints.

And UNC has sought a more objective measure of how to determine whether to admit athletes whose academic qualifications fall below its standards. The number of those admitted who fall the farthest below the standards has declined steadily over the past 13 years — in 2001 the number was 39 and in 2014 it had dropped to nine.

The University has about 160 slots for special admission for athletes every year. With about 800 varsity athletes, some 200 would come in as freshmen in an average year.

On Thursday, UNC announced the formation of two new working groups. The Policy and Procedures Working Group is designed to help the University identify any redundancies, gaps and inconsistencies, make recommendations for policy and procedure improvements and create a mechanism for periodic re-evaluation. An Ethics and Integrity Working Group aims to ensure the creation of the optimal culture, principles and practices to reinforce ethical, high-integrity behavior throughout the University.

UNC still faces scrutiny from its accreditation agency, the Southern Association of College and Schools, which is looking into the scandal for a second time. The SACS board of directors is expected to take up the matter June 11.

A Timeline

  • 7/2010 — Football player Marvin Austin ’12 tweets from a trip he made to Miami, which hints that he may be receiving benefits due to his status as an athlete.
  • 7/2010 — NCAA investigators come to Chapel Hill for reasons then not specified.
  • 10/2010 — Then-Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 tells a news conference, “To everyone who loves this University, I’m sorry for what I have to tell you.” The NCAA investigation into the football program has uncovered possible academic misconduct involving an undergraduate student tutor and some players on the football team. “We don’t yet know the extent of the issue,” then-Athletics Director Dick Baddour ’66 (’75 MA) says. “We will get to the bottom of this.”
  • 7/2011 — Head football coach Butch Davis is fired.
  • 8/2011 — Then-University Counsel Leslie Strohm notifies the NCAA that there may be problems in the then-Department of African and Afro-American Studies.
  • 8/2011 — The News & Observer obtains and reports on Austin’s UNC transcript, which shows he started his college career in summer 2007 in a 400-level AFAM class and received a B-plus. Austin’s SAT scores required remedial writing, which he took later. The 400-level class was listed as being taught by then-AFAM Chair Julius Nyang’oro.
  • 9/2011 — Baddour says he will retire as soon as a successor is found.
  • 3/2012 — The NCAA says UNC is responsible for multiple rules violations in its football program, including academic fraud and a failure to monitor the program. Carolina is given a ban on postseason play for the next season, reduction of five football scholarships in each of the next three years, three years’ probation and a $50,000 fine (self-imposed by UNC) and is ordered  to vacate its eight wins in 2008 and eight in 2009 because ineligible players participated. UNC is ordered to vacate the individual records of those who played while ineligible. UNC says it will not appeal.
  • 5/2012 — An internal investigation covering the period summer 2007 through summer 2011 finds nine classes containing 59 students that were found to be “aberrant.” It says 43 other courses were either aberrant or were “taught irregularly” — i.e., “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.”
  • 6/2012 — The State Bureau of Investigation begins looking into the matter.
  • 6/2012 — It is revealed that in summer 2011, 18 football team members and one former player made up the entire enrollment of an African and Afro-American studies class that was opened for enrollment on the day the summer session began — and that instructor Nyang’oro did not show up to teach.
  • 6/2012 — UNC finds no other departments doing what AFAM was found doing.
  • 7/2012 — A special subcommittee of UNC’s Faculty Executive Committee reports deep concerns in the faculty about how thoroughly athletes — especially those in the revenue-producing sports of basketball and football — participate in the academic life of the University.
  • 7/2012 — UNC acknowledges that Hakeem Nicks ’10 played his final season in 2008 while ineligible to be on the field. NCAA documents show that Nicks received improper academic help in the spring of 2008 and calls it “academic fraud.”
  • 8/2012 — The N&O reports on a transcript, confirmed within days as belonging to former star player Julius Peppers ’02, that shows mostly poor grades but significant help from the African studies department. The transcript shows that Peppers was in danger of being ineligible but that several high grades in African studies classes kept him eligible.
  • 9/2012 — Documents obtained by The N&O show that freshmen football players were enrolled in an upper-level African studies class, received intense help with their school work from academic support personnel and that many could not read or write at a college level. The records suggest another African studies professor was aware of no-show classes for struggling athletes. The records show a heavily plagiarized paper by a current member of the football team.
  • 9/2012 — Thorp announces he will step down as chancellor effective June 30, 2013.
  • 11/2012 — Mary Willingham, who had worked in the academic support program for athletes, tells The N&O that the system set up to keep athletes eligible provided improper help and tolerated plagiarism. She says UNC is admitting athletes who are unable to do college work.
  • 12/2012 — Former Gov. James Martin reports, following an investigation that UNC hired him to undertake, that Nyang’oro’s practice of getting approval for lecture courses that involved no lectures but a single paper due at the semester’s end started in 1997 — just months after AFAM was elevated from a curriculum to a department. Martin found patterns of faculty no-show classes that peaked in 2005-06 and then dropped precipitously — to near zero by 2009, the year Nyang’oro assistant Deborah Crowder ’75 retired.
  • 6/2013 — The N&O reveals email exchanges between Nyang’oro and academic counselors to athletes that strongly indicate that term-paper-only courses were arranged for the convenience of athletes. UNC System President Thomas Ross ’75 (JD) requests copies of the emails.
  • 6/2013 — The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools initially declares UNC out of compliance with accreditation principles, then declines to sanction, recommending that the University offer makeup classes to those who took the fraudulent AFAM classes.
  • Fall 2013 — Provost James Dean says he repeatedly has asked Willingham for documents from research she did for a master’s thesis on the subject of athletes and academics. Willingham says she had reached out about her data to Dean, Ross and Chancellor Carol L. Folt, with no response.
  • 12/2013 — Nyang’oro is indicted by a grand jury on a felony charge of obtaining property by false pretenses — specifically, taking $12,000 in pay he accepted despite not teaching a class.
  • Late 2013 or early 2014 — UNC’s Institutional Review Board pulls Willingham’s permit to do research. IRB had permitted her to do research but without permission to see individual names, which the IRB apparently didn’t think she needed. She characterizes this as a mistake on the IRB’s part, asking how she could have done this research without seeing names.
  • 1/2014 — Willingham asserts there was a basketball player who could not read or write. Coach Roy Williams ’72 denies this, then declines Willingham’s offer to meet with her.
  • 1/2014 — At a meeting of the Faculty Council,  Provost Dean and Admissions Director Steve Farmer present extensive statistical evidence they say refutes Willingham’s assertions about reading ability of athletes at the time they are admitted to UNC. Willingham stands by her work.
  • 1/2014 — Former football player Michael McAdoo ’12 tells The N&O his academic career  was a scam of courses designed to keep him eligible to play and presents himself as an victim of what happened in the scandal.
  • 2/2014 — The Orange County district attorney says Crowder will not be charged with crimes because she had agreed to cooperate in ongoing investigations.
  • 4/2014 — Three outside experts hired by UNC concur that Willingham’s research was not valid.
  • 5/2014 — Willingham resigns from UNC.
  • 6/2014 — Former basketball star Rashad McCants ’06 tells ESPN he didn’t go to class, nearly flunked out and that his eligibility to play was saved by AFAM no-show classes.
  • 7/2014 — Charges against Nyang’oro are dropped in exchange for his cooperation in a new investigation by independent counsel Kenneth Wainstein.
  • 7/2014 — The NCAA reopens its investigation, anticipating new information gleaned through the Wainstein probe.
  • 10/2014 — Wainstein’s report places most of the onus on Crowder but also cites a number of key people whom the report says knew for years what Crowder was doing. It says that Jan Boxill, chair of the faculty from 2011 to earlier in 2014, “knew completely what these classes were all about and steered students to them.”
  • 10/2014 — UNC fires Boxill and three others and disciplines five others in response to the Wainstein report.
  • 11/2014 — SACS opens a new probe and says UNC withheld some information it had in 2012-13 dealings with SACS. UNC denies it knew anything relevant it did not report to SACS.
  • 11/2014 — McAdoo sues UNC, saying that as an athlete he received a substandard education.
  • 1/2015 — Former athletes Rashanda McCants ’09 and Devon Ramsay ’12 sue the University, saying UNC did not deliver them the education it promised.
  • 3/2015 — UNC asks the court to dismiss McCants’ and Ramsay’s suit.
  • 5/2015 — The NCAA sends its letter of allegations to UNC.
  • 6/2015 — UNC is placed on probation for one year by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools after SACS’ second review of the academic fraud case and UNC’s action in response to it.

More online…


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