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University Reviewing Independent Study

UNC is reviewing its policies and practices for independent study and directed readings in the wake of issues that surfaced in the department of African and Afro-American studies as part of the investigation into the football program.

Karen Gil, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the college would review independent study and directed readings courses collegewide and that the college is looking into “anomalies” in a “subset of courses” in African and Afro-American studies.

Julius Nyang’oro, who had been chair of the department since 1992, resigned as chair in August after his name surfaced in connection with three different aspects of the investigation into the UNC football program. A University spokesperson confirmed a newspaper report that 21 percent of the enrollments in independent studies courses in the department over a five-year period starting in fall 2006 were football players. That does not necessarily indicate how many individuals were enrolled, as one person could have taken multiple courses.

The Afro and African-American studies department offered 76 independent study undergraduate courses over that period. There were 327 total enrollments. Football players and one men’s basketball player accounted for 69, or 21.1 percent, of those enrollments.

Gil has asked the administrative boards of the college to make recommendations about expectations concerning student assignments and contact hours with professors or teaching assistants in independent study courses; conditions and approvals for lectures and seminars to be delivered in an alternative format; and the process for converting directed readings courses to permanent courses.

Independent study involves a one-on-one faculty-student relationship in which the student typically does research and produces a paper and does not attend classes. Directed readings courses are similar and involve readings directed by a faculty member with an individual student.

Chris Roush, senior associate dean in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, sent a message to the school’s faculty on Oct. 24 asking for suggestions in drawing guidelines for students who wish to pursue independent study. “According to the College,” Roush wrote, “we have 73 students registered in nine different sections of such classes. That is a lot.” The school has about 800 students.

Roush said that he expected the college to have guidelines in place by the start of the next semester and that he wanted his school to have new ones before that.

Independent study is considered a valuable option in the curriculum that enables students to pursue research of their own interest. It results only in a letter grade on a transcript but can be a meaningful addition to a resume.

Roush said that a lack of diligence in the process can lead to students missing deadlines they would not usually miss in regular classes and that independent study can be abused — such as when a student ends up simply working for the professor in a teaching assistant role.

He said a student once came to him two weeks before the end of the semester and wanted to start an independent study to fill in for a class the student was dropping. Roush denied the request, he said, but he said there probably are cases in some academic units in which such a request would be met.


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