Wainstein: Crowder at Heart of 'Paper Class' Scheme

Deborah Crowder ’75, who managed the office of the former department of African and Afro-American studies, started and maintained the department’s practice of offering the “paper classes” that are at the heart of a long-running investigation into academics and athletics at the University.

Crowder, who started working in the office four years after she graduated from UNC and stayed there until 2009, developed a system of independent studies classes — listed as lecture-taught courses but which involved only completion of a single research paper and no professor present — that had the blessing of the department’s then-Chair Julius Nyang’oro. 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.

Kenneth Wainstein.

Former special prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein

These are among the findings of a nine-month investigation, led by former special prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein and a team of lawyers, that interviewed 126 people, gathered 100 gigabytes of data, examined 1.6 million emails and studied 150 papers from the classes. Wainstein said he found a “glaring” absence of oversight by the people who run the University.

What UNC System President Thomas Ross ’75 (JD) called “the Crowder-Nyang’oro scheme” has led the University to fire four employees and consider discipline for five others. Chancellor Carol L. Folt cited privacy requirements in not identifying any of them on Oct. 22, the day the investigation’s report was released.

The classes were disproportionately populated with varsity athletes, and athletes were steered to the classes by counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes. Wainstein’s report says the ASPSA was in part responsible for Crowder’s creation of what he called “a shadow curriculum” within the African and Afro-American studies department.

“These were classes that involved no interaction with a faculty member, required no class attendance or course work other than a single paper, and resulted in consistently high grades that Crowder awarded without reading the papers or otherwise evaluating their true quality,” the report says.

It cites a number of key people who knew for years what Crowder was doing. Wainstein separated them into those who merely knew there were easy classes available in Crowder’s shop and those who also knew the classes advertised faculty involvement — mostly Nyang’oro — but provided none.

Wainstein said that Jan Boxill, chair of the faculty from 2011 to earlier this year, “knew completely what these classes were all about and steered students to them.”

In one instance in September 2008, Crowder wrote in an email to Boxill: “Did you say a D will do for (the basketball player)? I’m only asking because 1. no sources, 2, it has absolutely nothing to do with the assignments for that class and 3. it seems to be a recycled paper. She took (another class) in spring of 2007 and that was likely for that class.”

Boxill replied: “Yes, a D will be fine; that’s all she needs. I didn’t look at the paper but figured it was a recycled one as well, but I couldn’t figure out from where.”

The report says there were 114 enrollments of women’s basketball players in the paper classes between 1999 and 2009. “It appears that many of these players were likely steered to these classes by their counselor, Boxill.” Wainstein also found instances in which Boxill “helped her players by drafting small amounts of original text for their papers.”

Boxill was removed on Oct. 24 from the directorship of UNC’s Parr Center for Ethics by Karen Gil, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. She was replaced in the interim by Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, Morehead-Cain Distinguished Alumni Professor of philosophy.

The report also referred to actions by Bobbi Owen, senior associate dean for undergraduate education from 2005 to 2014.

“In 2006, Owen apparently knew that the AFAM Department was enrolling far too many students in independent studies and told Nyang’oro to limit the numbers and ‘rein’ Crowder in,” the report says. But Owen did not follow up and apparently did not share any concerns with others in the administration, according to the report.

Wainstein said that five counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes “knew exactly what was going on with these classes” and that two of them actually suggested grades for individuals to Crowder.

“Football counselors Cynthia Reynolds, Beth Bridger and Jaimie Lee were aware of every irregular aspect of these paper classes,” the report says, adding that that group also included Octavus Barnes ’98, a former UNC football player.

The report describes a presentation to the football coaching staff in November 2009 in which Reynolds, Bridger and Lee emphasized the need for players to submit their papers before Crowder’s imminent retirement, lest they risk lower grades from a different grader.

Some counselors implored Nyang’oro to continue offering paper classes after Crowder was gone — he offered six more of the classes himself. A class hastily arranged for a summer session and populated by 19 people — 18 football players and one former player — was the last of the paper classes.

General academic advisers who also work with students who are not athletes sometimes directed students to the easy classes, but there’s no evidence they knew the classes had no faculty, according to the report.

Within the athletics department, Wainstein said former Athletics Director Dick Baddour ’66 and John Blanchard, the retired vice chancellor who was in charge of the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes, knew there were easy classes in AFAM but did not know professors weren’t involved. Former football coach Butch Davis, who was fired in 2011, fell into that category as well, as did former basketball coach Matt Doherty ’84.

Davis’ predecessor, John Bunting ’72, knew somewhat more — he told the investigators that he understood the paper class scheme was part of a strategy to keep players eligible.

Of the football coaches, Davis’ teams had 181 enrollments in paper classes; under Carl Torbush, 1997-2000, there were 35 enrollments. Paper class involvement peaked under Bunting at 747.

Basketball coach Roy Williams ’72 told Wainstein that he was uncomfortable with the large number of his players who were majoring in AFAM — five out of 15 on the 2003-04 team and 10 of 15 in 2004-05 — and asked then-assistant Joe Holladay to check for irregularities. Both said they knew nothing about the absence of faculty in independent study classes.

But Wayne Walden, chief academic counselor to the basketball team whom Williams brought with him from the University of Kansas, did know. The report says that the late academic counselor to the team, Burgess McSwain ’66, and Walden “routinely called Crowder to arrange classes for their players.”

Basketball star Rashad McCants ’06, who earlier this year insisted Williams knew everything about the paper classes, did not cooperate with Wainstein despite efforts to interview him.

Nearly everyone with any familiarity with the case has wondered when a fairly steady stream of bad news would stop and the matter could be put to rest. The presentation of the report had an air of finality about it. Folt apologized profusely to the University community for four years of scandal, and she did not mince words about the perpetrators.

“The length of time that this behavior went on and the number of people involved is really shocking,” Folt said. “It was a wrongdoing that could have and should have been stopped much earlier by individuals who were in positions of influence and oversight. Many could have sounded the alarm more forcefully.”

The previous, narrower investigation of the issues by former Gov. James Martin had included Martin’s declaration in 2012 that this was an academics scandal but not an athletics one. Folt addressed that forcefully: “Clearly it was an issue in both areas, and it was a University issue.”

Ross, who co-ordered the investigation with Folt, said: “The Crowder-Nyang’oro scheme marks a horrible chapter in the history of this great university. Today we know the full facts. I’m sad and, quite frankly, angry.”

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.

“From the beginning,” Ross said, “I think the University has taken the position that these classes started in an academic department by a person employed in the academic side of the University. Subsequent to that, athletics took advantage of that.”

While Wainstein went substantially beyond previous investigations, the keys to his findings were having Crowder and Nyang’oro cooperate. Nyang’oro had been indicted for taking compensation for classes he didn’t teach; those charges were dropped, and Crowder was promised immunity from charges in exchange for their cooperation.

Folt spoke of “vital missing checks and balances that if in place could have captured and corrected this much sooner, that would have saved so much anguish and embarrassment.” For instance, department chairs previously were not subject to personal reviews, so Nyang’oro went almost 20 years with his work not reviewed.

Folt outlined new reforms to the numerous administrative changes already put in place as the scandal played out. She said the University will:

  • Launch a new public records website to enhance accountability, responsiveness and efficiency around records requests;
  • Add faculty to a group that reviews student-athlete eligibility and progress toward degree;
  • Establish a working group to ensure there are clear, consolidated and confidential channels through which people can raise their hands and share concerns;
  • Continue to improve existing advising and support programs for athletes;
  • Conduct an institution-wide policy and procedure audit that will allow the University to identify any remaining issues;
  • Develop and implement an expanded process for the systematic, consistent evaluation and review of every University unit and department; and
  • Immediately implement a plan to stabilize the department of African, African American and diaspora studies — the department previously known as African and Afro-American studies.

Wainstein described Crowder as having been unhappy as a UNC student after she noticed that the University paid so much attention to well-prepared students and less attention to those who struggled academically. He said that she wanted to help those students and that when she went to work for the AFAM department she looked “for opportunities to take pressure off those students.”

Wainstein used faculty at other universities to examine plagiarism in the 150 papers culled from the paper classes. They found that in 61 of the papers, at least 25 percent of the content was “unoriginal”; in 26, at least 50 percent of the content was unoriginal. Nyang’oro’s hands-off approach — he was away from Chapel Hill frequently — enabled Crowder’s scheme, the report says.

Other faculty in the AFAM department have denied knowing about the scheme, and previous investigations have not disputed that. The Wainstein report says this about the claims of AFAM faculty that they were surprised by the initial news reports: “We tested that finding through aggressive interviews of all AFAM faculty and through a review of their emails. While they may not have been fully briefed into the details of the scheme — and some may have consciously avoided getting such a briefing — we found that several of the AFAM faculty had a clear understanding that Crowder was running some kind of ‘a shadow department’ (as Nyang’oro referred to it) that made exceptional accommodations for students, and particularly for student-athletes. We did not find evidence that any actually signed on as active collaborators with Crowder and Nyang’oro, but there were several who at least tacitly accepted the existence of these classes.”

UNC now awaits action on the matter from the NCAA, which investigated misdoings among individual football players and handed the school serious sanctions, then backed away from the academics-based issues and then reopened the Carolina case after Wainstein secured the cooperation of Crowder and Nyang’oro.

Wainstein’s report can be accessed in its entirety at

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