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UNC Again Disputes NCAA’s Charges

The University has reiterated its contention that a set of no-attendance, paper-only classes were not designed for athletes and were not available to athletes on a preferred basis and that the staff of the academic support center for athletes did not act improperly. Therefore, it contends, the fraudulent-classes case is not punishable under the athletics governing body’s bylaws.

In its response to the NCAA’s third notice of allegations in the long-running case, UNC asserted that “nobody in athletics took special advantage of the courses.” It acknowledged that Jan Boxill, the former philosophy lecturer and one of the central figures in the case, acted improperly at times but that her interaction with athletes did not constitute lack of institutional control, as charged by the NCAA.

The 102-page response suggests a redefinition of “athlete,” in which athletes would account for 37.2 percent of the enrollments in the fraudulent classes offered in the former department of African and Afro-American studies over an 18-year period.

The most comprehensive probe of the case, performed by the firm that employed investigator Kenneth Wainstein, concluded that more than 45 percent of the total enrollment of the identified classes consisted of varsity athletes, who make up less than 5 percent of the student body.

“We define an ‘active student-athlete’ as one who was participating in intercollegiate athletics and governed by NCAA rules at the time they took one of the Courses,” the response says. “Thus, if a student participated on an athletics team as a freshman, did not participate on an athletics team thereafter and took one of the Courses, that individual would not count as an ‘active student-athlete’ who took a Course because they were not subject to NCAA rules.”

The response, sent to the NCAA in mid-May along with 835 pages of exhibits, sets off another 60-day period of consideration, expected to be followed by a hearing before the body’s infractions committee in August. The committee’s chair has promised there will be no more delays in the case, which has seen the University and the NCAA trade allegations and responses for two years.

“We are prepared and look forward to presenting our case to the Committee on Infractions,” Chancellor Carol L. Folt said. “Bringing closure to this process will be an important step for our University.”

“The issues before this Panel were academic in nature and the result of inadequate academic oversight unrelated to the Department of Athletics,” the response says. “The academic nature of the issues is shown by the fact that those issues have been addressed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Committee on Colleges,” which has investigated the case twice and placed UNC on probation for one year before clearing it in 2016. SACS said it was satisfied with remedies UNC had put in place.

The paper-only classes arrangement was created by the then-chair of the AFAM department, Julius Nyang’oro, and administered largely by his office manager, Deborah Crowder ’75, who managed enrollment and graded papers. Crowder testified before the NCAA’s enforcement staff for more than five hours on May 10.

“Among other things, Ms. Crowder testified that the courses at issue were not created for student-athletes; were available to all students; and were not managed in such a way that student-athletes had access to them at a disproportionately higher rate than nonathlete students,” infractions committee Chair Greg Sankey wrote in a letter to UNC officials. “She further testified that she treated all students the same and that grades were assigned according to standards provided by Professor Nyang’oro without regard to whether a student was also an athlete. Ms. Crowder rejected any notion that she and Professor Nyang’oro had delegated academic responsibilities to ASPSA academic advisors or the Department of Athletics, or that people in those departments leveraged relationships with her or Professor Nyang’oro to the advantage of student-athletes.

“She also confirmed that there was no policy in place at the University that would have prohibited Professor Nyang’oro from delegating responsibility to her in the manner that he did or from allowing her to exercise the authority that she did. She testified that she had no intent to violate any NCAA regulation and does not believe that she ever did.”

Though the University had little time to react to Crowder’s testimony in its response, the infractions committee will consider it in making its decision on whether to punish UNC. Nyang’oro has refused multiple overtures to speak to the NCAA.

The third notice of allegations says UNC violated “issues that go to the core of the collegiate model” when it failed to recognize and stop the system of paper-only classes — listed as lecture-taught courses but which involved only completion of a single research paper and no professor present. It charged UNC with failure to exercise institutional control and said Boxill knowingly provided improper benefits to athletes.

“Many at-risk student-athletes, particularly in the sports of football and men’s basketball, used these courses for purposes of ensuring their continuing NCAA academic eligibility,” the notice said.

The University says in the response that it “agrees that some of the sub-allegations against Professor Jan Boxill support an allegation of extra benefits but contends that others do not.” Additionally, it says: “The greater weight of the evidence is that Professor Boxill did not knowingly violate the extra benefit provisions. Although there is no question that she knowingly supplied the academic assistance, a finding of a [bylaw] violation requires that Professor Boxill knew she was violating the extra benefit provisions.”

The response also says that “the University did not fail to properly monitor or control the ASPSA program (the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes). … The facts do not support the allegation that ASPSA academic counselors inquiring about enrolling student-athletes in the Courses constituted impermissible extra benefits.”

The NCAA believes that counselors and tutors in the ASPSA steered athletes toward the fraudulent classes.

Part of the University’s argument against Boxill having provided impermissible assistance is related to the NCAA having adopted new, less strict rules on academic assistance in August 2016. A document released while the NCAA was considering the new rules stated in part that “[s]ome fear that the enforcement staff will overreach and allege violations when schools provide ordinary assistance to college athletes who need academic support. The enforcement staff is sensitive to this concern and has no interest in discouraging appropriate and generous academic support for college athletes. … We’re not looking for the close call. We’re not looking for a paragraph added. We’re not looking for heavy editing. We’re looking for an entire paper that has been done for someone. We’re looking where someone got the answer key to an entire exam. We’re looking at things that make a big difference for that class.”

The response says that UNC understands that the new rules do not apply in this case but that it believes that how the body now regulates that type of conduct is relevant to the question of whether UNC failed on institutional control.

“Under the rules effective on the date of this Response, Professor Boxill’s allegedly impermissible assistance would not be a violation at all,” it says.

UNC acknowledges that it did not provide proper oversight of the AFAM department but that it has corrected that in what it refers to as more than 70 reforms put in place since the investigations started. It disputes the charge of improper oversight of the ASPSA, saying its staff did not have control over the AFAM department’s practices.

In an April 14 letter to all parties, Sankey, who is commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, lashed out at critics who had suggested he should not be chair of the infractions committee in a case involving a school from a rival conference. He stated that peer review had been the NCAA’s norm for 60 years and that it was incorrect to suggest he had “directed the enforcement staff to change allegations” or that “the panel is somehow conflicted.”

That same letter included the statement that there would be no more delays.


 

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