Academic Fraud At UNC: Athletes Directed Toward Bogus Classes
Update Thursday 9:04 a.m.:
Kenneth Wainstein says academic fraud at UNC Chapel Hill began more than 20 years ago. The former federal prosecutor detailed the findings of his eight-month investigation Wednesday. It’s the latest in a series of investigations that marks one of the worst scandals in the school’s 225-year history.
During an 18-year period, more than 3,000 students at North Carolina's flagship university took bogus classes. Almost half of them were athletes.
Kenneth Wainstein led a team of attorneys that came to that conclusion after the review of thousands of documents, transcripts, and emails. They looked at 150 papers from the independent study course in question and interviewed 126 students, athletes, administrators, faculty and tutors. In the end the report shows more fraud than what was previously known.
'I am deeply disappointed in the duration and extent of the wrongdoing, as well as the lack of oversight ... that if in place could have captured and corrected this much sooner.' - UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt
"I am deeply disappointed in the duration and extent of the wrongdoing, as well as the lack of oversight – specifically vital missing checks and balances – that if in place could have captured and corrected this much sooner," said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt.
Folt announced that four staff members had been fired and another five are under disciplinary review.
Wainstein is the former number two man at the US Department of Justice. He did not have subpoena power in this investigation. He briefed the North Carolina Board of Governors and the UNC Chapel Hill Trustees at a joint meeting, before sharing his findings with the public.
"Oversight, you heard from Chancellor Folt about the deficiencies in oversight and they were glaring deficiencies in oversight," said Wainstein. "And someone who has spent most of his career in large organizations – that was probably one of the most striking things I saw about this."
Wainstein’s 120-page report showed the fraud centered around the African and Afro-American Studies Department. For 20 years Department Chair Julius Nyang'oro was not reviewed by others at the school. During that time secretary Deborah Crowder unofficially ran independent studies courses.
"She took that and basically corrupted it."
Nyang'oro was indicted by the Orange County District Attorney for fraud. Charges against him were dropped earlier this year, following his cooperation in this investigation. Crowder retired after 30 years with the university. She took the professors completely out of the picture when it came to the independent courses.
"She’d give [students] the paper assignment, they’d go off and write a paper, they would submit it to her, she would grade that paper herself and do so typically with an A or B+ and the grading would be done pretty much without regard for the quality of the paper," said Wainstein. "There was never a faculty member involved in the process – and she did it all, including the grading."
The report showed links between that department and academic and athletic counselors. The no-show, fake-paper classes were used to keep athletes eligible.
The report did not implicate any administrators or coaches.
It did show the involvement of Jan Boxill. She’s a faculty member in the Department of Philosophy and Director for the Parr Center for Ethics. Boxill has called previous revelations of academic fraud astonishing.
In one email exchange uncovered in this report she approved giving a women’s basketball player a “D” to stay eligible – admitting she didn’t look at the paper and figured it was ‘recycled’ from a previous course.
Jay Smith is a history professor at UNC. He has been an outspoken critic in the wake of the scandal and had this initial reaction.
"I have to say I am surprised and pleased with the thrust of the report," said Smith. "It seems as though Wainstein went pretty deep."
The report also attempted to address claims by Rashad McCants, a member of the 2005 men’s basketball team. McCants spoke out publicly in June, claiming that he rarely attended class and never wrote any papers. Wainstein said McCants ignored requests to be interviewed and thus no evidence emerged to confirm, or deny, his claims.
Meanwhile, for the first time on Wednesday, Chancellor Folt said this is both an academic and athletic issue. And she is now looking ahead.
"I think we now have a full understanding of what happened," said Folt. "And the important point now is going forward, how are we going to act?"
It’s not clear what comes next. The University did not say if it plans to review diplomas from any of the 3,100 students who took the no-show, fake classes. Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham said he has no plans to levy any internal punishments. As the NCAA continues to review the academic scandal at UNC, it will now take into account the most comprehensive record of what happened between 1993 and 2011.
Update 3:24 p.m. Wednesday:
Letter from Chancellor Folt:
Dear Carolina Community, Earlier today, Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor, released the findings of his independent investigation into academic irregularities at Carolina. You may view the report at http://carolinacommitment.unc.edu. I recognize that the past few years have been challenging for our community, but today we have a full picture of what happened. I am deeply disappointed by the duration and the extent of the wrongdoing, as well as the lack of oversight that could have corrected it sooner. We could have saved so much anguish and, more importantly, protected the students and countless members of our community who played absolutely no role. My greatest hope is that we can restore your trust and ensure that you do not feel diminished by the bad actions of others. It is important to separate the past from the present - and the future. Mr. Wainstein found that the irregularities were confined to one department, peaked almost a decade ago and ended in 2011. Since first learning of these irregularities four years ago, Carolina took action to stop the wrongdoing and implemented numerous additional reforms, and we continue to take actions that build on the initiatives currently in place. We already are stronger as a result of our journey, not only from the reforms, but because of our willingness to accept responsibility. Now is our time to show how resilient we can be - how we are going to continue the process of deep soul-searching and self-reflection, and how we are going to use what we have learned to become better, stronger and even more proud of who we are as an institution. I expect the members of our community to experience a range of emotions about the report's findings and our actions. As you reflect upon the learnings, remember that our University's 221-year history has never been defined by a single moment. Rather, our legacy is built from the impressive accomplishments and discoveries made every day on this campus by our students, faculty and staff. In that spirit, let me remind you of our town hall event this evening from 5 to 6 p.m. in room G100 of the Genome Sciences Building. I want to provide you with more insights on the report and respond to your questions. I hope you will be able to join me. I feel today, more than ever, that it is the privilege of my career to be chancellor of one of the greatest universities in America. I am so proud of what our campus community is accomplishing - and where we are headed. Thank you for your support. Sincerely, Carol L. Folt Chancellor
Update 2:57 p.m.:
Look at an archive of tweets by our Jeff Tiberii and others. Tiberii was live tweeting the press conference.
Update 1:00 p.m.:
Here is the report in full.
Here's the press release about the report:
For immediate use
UNC-Chapel Hill Announces Completion of Independent Counsel's Inquiry on Academic Irregularities, Takes Action to Address Findings
(Chapel Hill, N.C. - October 22, 2014) - The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill today announced the results of an independent investigation conducted by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein into past academic irregularities at Carolina and took immediate action to address the findings. Today's actions build on the reforms already undertaken in the years since first learning about the issues.
Mr. Wainstein's investigation found:
- Two people within the department formerly known as African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM)-Julius Nyang'oro and Deborah Crowder-were responsible for offering hundreds of irregular classes at UNC-Chapel Hill between 1993 and 2011.
- These so-called "paper classes" were irregular in that they had no class attendance or faculty involvement, and Ms. Crowder, a non-faculty administrator, managed the classes and graded the papers.
- Over the course of their 18-year existence, the paper classes affected 3,100 out of a total of 97,600 undergraduate students who were enrolled at the University during that time period.
- Student-athletes accounted for 47.6 percent of enrollments in the irregular classes.
- Many of the student-athletes were directed to the classes by academic counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes. These counselors saw the paper classes and the artificially high grades they yielded as key to helping some student-athletes remain eligible.
- Academic advisors in the Office of Academic Advising also directed non-athlete students to these courses.
- Various University personnel were aware of red flags, yet did not ask questions. There was a failure of meaningful oversight by the University.
Mr. Wainstein's investigation found no indication of wrongdoing in any academic departments beyond AFAM, that no current coaches were involved or aware and that the reported wrongdoing ended in 2011.
"Mr. Wainstein has found that the wrongdoing at Carolina lasted much longer and affected more students than previously known. The bad actions of a few and the inaction of others failed the University's students, faculty and alumni, and undermined the institution as a whole," said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L. Folt. "This conduct could and should have been stopped much earlier by individuals in positions of influence and oversight, and others could have sounded the alarm more forcefully."
"I apologize first to the students who entrusted us with their education and took these courses. You deserved so much better from your University, and we will do everything we can to make it right," continued Folt. "I also want to apologize to the Carolina community - you have been hurt both directly and indirectly by this wrongdoing, even though you had no knowledge or responsibility for it, and many of you were not even here when most or all of it occurred."
Based on Mr. Wainstein's findings, the University will take the following actions and launch a number of new initiatives:
- Launch a new public records website (http://publicrecords.unc.edu) to enhance accountability, responsiveness and efficiency around records requests. That site is live as of today.
- 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 hand and share concerns. The working group will also recommend how best to oversee the University's commitment to integrity and compliance with all applicable laws, regulations and policies.
- Continue to align and advance existing advising and support programs for student-athletes, further integrating the delivery of academic and career advising to include intensive and early attention to major exploration and post-college opportunities.
- Conduct an institution-wide policy and procedure audit that will allow the University to identify any remaining redundancies and gaps, and create a mechanism for periodic re-evaluation.
- Develop and implement an expanded process for the systematic, consistent evaluation and review of every unit and department. The Provost or appropriate director will be authorized to launch a special department review as needed.
- Immediately implement a plan to stabilize the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies. Similarly, director of athletics Bubba Cunningham has been executing a plan to bolster integrity and accountability throughout the Athletics organization.
- Take fact-based personnel actions, including terminating or commencing disciplinary action against nine University employees. Others implicated in the report include former University employees.
"I appreciate Mr. Wainstein's hard work, professionalism and diligence in bringing us to today," said UNC President Tom Ross. "I expect the findings will enable Chancellor Folt to build on earlier reforms and take the decisive steps needed to bring to a close the remaining questions and concerns around this matter. I will work closely with her and with the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and the UNC Board of Governors to take what we've learned and ensure that Carolina emerges a stronger university dedicated to our students and our state."
"In February, President Ross and Chancellor Folt tasked us with conducting a comprehensive and independent investigation to get to the bottom of the irregular class scheme that went on for almost two decades on the Chapel Hill campus," said Wainstein, a partner with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP. "We have spent the past eight months investigating every possible academic and athletic angle of that scheme, and today's report lays out our findings and the full story behind the irregular classes. I want to thank President Ross, Chancellor Folt and the staff and students of the University for their exceptional cooperation with our investigation and for their commitment to unearthing the truth about this difficult chapter in the history of one of the country's finest universities."
Since first learning about these irregularities, Carolina has implemented numerous reforms, including new policies and processes to ensure compliance with teaching workloads and regular reviews of department chairs; ConnectCarolina, a new electronic student and course record database to help the University better track students enrolled in independent study and other courses; regular classroom visits to confirm classes are being held as scheduled; and additional oversight and support has been added for student-athletes for each sport in the Department of Athletics.
"Carolina is already stronger as a result of our journey over the past few years. Throughout our history, no single moment has defined us, but we are at our best when our most difficult moments teach us," said Folt. "Our core mission as an institution is academics. I believe we can also offer strong and successful athletics programs, and that in fact athletics advances our academic mission. While we accept full responsibility for the past, the wind is in our sails for the future because our students, faculty and staff are so strong."
Mr. Wainstein's report can be accessed in its entirety at carolinacommitment.unc.edu. As previously announced, UNC-Chapel Hill will share publicly all documents cited in Wainstein's report to enhance transparency around these records.
Kenneth Wainstein will present the findings of his independent investigation into academic fraud at UNC-Chapel Hill this morning.
The former number two man at the U.S. Justice Department has reviewed transcripts, emails and interviewed hundreds of people since February. He will brief the University of North Carolina Board of Governors and the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.
There will be a press conference about the report at 1 p.m. You can watch the live stream of the conference here.
According to a previous report, the academic scandal dates back at least 17 years, when athletes were enrolled in no-show classes. An NCAA investigation four years ago looked into improper benefits provided by agents to football players. That led to a second investigation into academic misconduct.
Ultimately football coach Butch Davis was fired, Athletic Director Dick Baddour stepped down in the wake of the scandal and sanctions were issued by the NCAA. Others have since come forward to speak out about no-show classes for athletes.
- Here is a collection of previous internal and external inquiries.
- The university has implemented a number of reforms. They are detailed here.
This e-mail from UNC Chancellor Carol Folt was sent to the entire UNC community on Monday:
Dear Carolina Community, I want to be the first to let you know that this Wednesday at 1 p.m., Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor who we retained to investigate past academic irregularities at Carolina, will publicly release his report. At that event, UNC President Tom Ross and I will share our reactions to the report, our plans for responding, and also answer questions from the media. There will be a live webcast of Mr. Wainstein's presentation on Wednesday. Please go to http://carolinacommitment.unc.edu to access this webcast. We will also post Mr. Wainstein's report and related materials to the site. In addition, I will convene faculty, staff and students in the hours following the release of the report on Wednesday to hear from you and provide you more insights on the report. This town hall will take place from 5 to 6 p.m. in room G200 of the Genome Sciences Building. I hope you will be able to join me. The last few years have been difficult for our community. I believe this report will allow us to have a complete picture of what happened at Carolina and build on the numerous reforms we have already put in place. I understand that many of you have questions, and I hope that many will be answered on Wednesday. We will continue to keep you informed as we move forward. Thank you for your support. Carol L. Folt Chancellor