Only Football Players Took Hastily Arranged Summer Class, Taught in Absentia

Last summer, 18 UNC football players and one former player made up the entire enrollment of an African and Afro-American studies class that, according to a report by The News & Observer of Raleigh, was opened for enrollment on the day the summer session began — and instructor Julius Nyang’oro did not show up to teach.

Academic advisers for the football program knew there would be an assigned term paper but no instruction, according to the newspaper. A letter sent to the UNC trustees on Thursday by Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 substantiates that.

Thorp informed the trustees that he intended to take back the $12,000 Nyang’oro was paid for the class.

“Professor Nyang’oro had signed a Summer School contract that made it clear that the course was to be taught in a lecture format, but he instead taught it as an independent study. Students in the class wrote papers and were graded. Nevertheless, Professor Nyang’oro did not meet the University’s instructional expectations.”

Nyang’oro’s department currently is under investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation after a UNC review found evidence of academic fraud in the department. Nyang’oro is set to retire July 1.

On June 14, UNC System President Thomas Ross ’75 (JD) and UNC System Board of Governors Chair Hannah Gage ’75 set up a four-member panel from among the BOG to review the University’s investigation.

The group will review the processes, protocols and materials UNC officials used in their probe and try to determine whether officials had shown appropriate oversight. If the panel finds the investigation incomplete or identifies additional steps to be taken, the system could initiate another investigation.

The matter was discussed at a meeting of the BOG’s governance committee that was set up so that all BOG members could attend, and Thorp gave a report on the investigation.

The review panel consists of BOG members Louis Bissette Jr. ’68 (JD), Walter Davenport, Ann Goodnight and Hari Nath.

Nyang’oro had expected no more than five students in the summer 2011 class, according to Thorp’s letter. The letter went on to say that the contract made it clear Nyang’oro was expected to meet every day and that he was to spend 15 to 20 hours a week teaching and advising students.

Thorp said he was looking into how the course was created and how students registered for it. According to The N&O’s examination of email correspondence, Nyang’oro on June 14 asked his colleague, Tim McMillan, a senior lecturer in the department, to add AFAM 280 (titled “Blacks in North Carolina”) to the summer calendar, and told McMillan that he, Nyang’oro, would be the instructor of record. “On June 16, the day the summer semester began, [Jan] Yopp sent a notice to Nyang’oro that the class was open for registration,” the paper reported. “Four days later, Nyang’oro told her 18 students had enrolled in the class. It makes no mention that all were football players.” Yopp is dean of the Summer School.

“While it appears that academic support staff were aware that Professor Nyang’oro didn’t intend to teach the class as a standard lecture course, they knew that the students would be required to write a 15-page paper. They saw no reason to question the faculty member’s choice of course format.”

The newspaper quoted Thorp as saying, “Anytime you have a class consisting solely of student-athletes, it raises questions.” It also quoted Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham: “I just think this has uncovered some information that quite frankly, the university, we’re not proud of. But we’ll continue to work to ensure that it doesn’t happen going forward.”

On Sunday The N&O quoted trustees Chair Wade Hargrove ’62 as saying he found the matter “troubling in the extreme.” The paper said that among the questions Hargrove wanted answered were how the class offering came about and the scenario in which the football players registered for it.

“You can’t love Carolina and not be heartbroken,” Hargrove told the newspaper.

The SBI was asked to investigate the African and Afro-American studies department after the district attorney for Orange County said he received information that indicated one or more people may have been compensated for supervising classes that now are believed to have been without supervision.

Red flags raised during the UNC football program investigation led to a probe of the department that turned up what appears to be a multifaceted web of academic fraud in which professors were absent, grades were changed without proper authorization and faculty oversight of students’ work was suspect.

The evidence of fraud covered more than 50 classes. The report said that many of the classes had been taught in summer sessions by Nyang’oro, the department’s first and only chair until he resigned as chair under pressure last August.

The investigation covered the period summer 2007 through summer 2011. It said that in the period summer 2007 to summer 2009, nine classes containing 59 students were found to be “aberrant” — showing “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.”

It said 43 other courses were 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.”

It said that while there was no evidence Nyang’oro promoted the offering of aberrant courses, he “bears responsibility as Department Chair for the grave mistakes made during his watch.” Nyang’oro plans to retire from the University July 1.

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