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 carolinacommitment.unc.edu.
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.