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UNC Plans Wide-Ranging Review of Academics, Athletics

The University is bringing in a former governor, a national management consulting firm and the president of a prestigious national higher education association to help address different aspects of issues related to an internal investigation that found course irregularities in the African and Afro-American studies department.

“Our focus every day remains on fixing the problems and ensuring they never happen again,” Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 said.

Thorp outlined initiatives to clarify and alter the relationship between academics and athletics in a Thursday email message to the campus community.

The University is implementing all of the recommendations in four previous campus reviews:  a review of courses in the department, a report on the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes, an Independent Study Task Force Report and a Faculty Executive Committee Report.

In addition, UNC is cooperating with the work of a UNC System Board of Governors panel convened by UNC System President Tom Ross ’75 (JD) that is assessing the campus investigation and response to determine whether they are reasonable and adequate to protect the University’s academic integrity and help prevent a similar situation from occurring again.

The University also is under investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation for possible criminal offenses in Julius Nyang’oro’s practices as chair of the department of African and Afro-American studies.

In new developments, Thorp announced that former N.C. Gov. James G. Martin will lead an independent review of additional academic irregularities that may have occurred before 2007. (The original four-year departmental course review covered 2007 to 2011.)

Martin, who holds a doctorate in chemistry, is a former Davidson College faculty member who served on faculty athletics and admissions committees. He is a former member of Congress and also serves on the board of directors of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy and as chair and director of the Institute for Defense and Business based in Chapel Hill. He was governor from 1985 to 1993.

Martin will be assisted by Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP, a national management consulting firm with extensive experience in academic performance procedures and controls. The conclusions will be provided to the UNC System Board of Governors panel, which convened in July.

“Members of the Board of Trustees, President Ross and I all believe that this is an important step in rebuilding the confidence that you deserve to have in our academic integrity,” Thorp said. “This review will begin immediately.”

In addition, Baker Tilly Virchow Krause will review new academic performance policies, procedures and controls the University already has put in place in the African and Afro-American studies department, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Summer School “to ensure they represent best practices and, if not, to make specific recommendations for improvement,” Thorp said. “We are determined to make sure that our internal controls are such that irregularities of the past will not recur.”

In the department, under new Chair Eunice Sahle’s leadership, stronger procedures are in place for independent studies, course syllabi, exams and grading. A new governance structure also is in place. In the college, teaching assignments and enrollments in every academic department and curricula are being reviewed annually to ensure that standard practices are followed. The college also is implementing consistent best practices for independent study in all of its academic departments. The Summer School has implemented new and improved policies and monitoring tools. A new centralized campus student database also has improved managing, monitoring and tracking of student records and grade forms.

Thorp also has appointed Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, to help UNC examine the future relationship between academics and athletics on campus. Bringing in outside experts to provide an independent, comprehensive analysis of that relationship was a key recommendation in the Faculty Executive Committee report. UNC is a member of the AAU, an association of 61 top public and private research universities. Rawlings was president of the University of Iowa and Cornell University; holds degrees in classics, including a doctorate; and was a star men’s basketball player and baseball pitcher in college. Rawlings’ wife, Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings ’67, is a professional translator with both undergraduate and master’s degrees in French from UNC.

The University will launch this effort after Martin and Baker Tilly Virchow Krause complete their independent review and the BOG panel finishes its work. “Our goal is to engage the entire campus community in a meaningful discussion and analysis of the role of athletics in the life of the University,” Thorp said.

The University’s departmental course review found 54 questionable classes among 616 offered between summer 2007 and summer 2011. According to the review, irregularities with those courses appeared to be linked to two people: Nyang’oro, who resigned as the department’s chair last September and was forced by the University to retire earlier this summer, and former department administrator Deborah Crowder, who retired in 2009 and declined to cooperate with the University’s investigation.

On campus, Thorp highlighted additional changes in the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes resulting from discussions among University leaders, including College of Arts and Sciences Dean Karen Gil, Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham and Board of Trustees Chair Wade Hargrove ’62, to strengthen the intersection of academics and athletics. Those plans reflect faculty input and are consistent with a 2011 task force report on athletics and academics commissioned by Ross that stressed academic affairs being fully in control of academic support services related to athletics.

In this area, the University is taking steps including:

  • Reorganizing the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes within the College of Arts and Sciences and hiring a new leader.
  • Expanding academic advising in the college by adding two new positions to monitor and oversee academic advising for athletes.
  • Coordinating and clarifying the relationship between academic advising and the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes to make it clear the college is in charge. These efforts will include the college enhancing its training and supervision of academic advisers and academic counselors to strengthen their distinct, but complementary roles and duties.
  • Expanding the Summer Bridge Program, a residential program for students who may need help in the transition to college, to include athletes.
  • Strengthening faculty involvement in athletics by enhancing relationships among the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes and faculty serving on advisory and athletics-related committees of the Faculty Council and the faculty representative to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the NCAA.

Cunningham and Gil also have worked collaboratively to strengthen connections between academics and athletics, Thorp said.

Cunningham, who was hired last December, has reorganized the athletics department and hired two new staff members. Senior Associate Athletics Director Vince Ille, who was at the University of Illinois, will be the liaison with academic advising and counseling for student-athletes.

Ille will coordinate with the college, supervise the compliance program and work with staff to minimize the risk of NCAA infractions. Associate Director Paul Pogge is coming from the University of Denver to assist in coordinating athlete eligibility, the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rankings, risk assessment and summer camps.


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