AFAM 428 student: I never met Nyang’oro

In the summer of 2009, Nate Harrison took AFAM 428 — Bioethics in Afro-American Studies, a class taught by former professor and Department of African and Afro-American Studies Chair Julius Nyang’oro.

Harrison, who is a member of The Daily Tar Heel editorial board, heard from a friend that it was an easy class and GPA booster. He asked an academic adviser about taking the 400-level class during the summer after his freshman year.

“They said, ‘Yeah, you know, that might be a good idea,’” he said.

Harrison did not think anything was suspect about the class because it had been described to him as independent study. “It didn’t strike me as anything improper immediately,” he said.

But the class never met, and at the end of the summer session, Harrison emailed Nyang’oro his 20-page paper.

“I never once saw Nyang’oro,” Harrison said.

Harrison, who is not an athlete, has been a member of the newspaper staff for the last two summers. His experience illustrates how students could have been led to classes now being investigated.

AFAM 428 is the same class a former UNC football player, widely thought to be Marvin Austin, took in the summer of 2007.

In a letter to the Board of Trustees June 7, Chancellor Holden Thorp said 58 percent of the student enrollments in the 54 aberrant or irregularly taught classes identified in a University review of Department of African and Afro-American Studies were student athletes.

The class Harrison took was was listed as being 75 percent student athletes — and half the class were members of the football team.

AFAM 428 was listed as one of those classes nine times between summer 2007 through fall 2010. Of the aberrant or irregularly taught classes, AFAM 428 had one of the highest enrollment numbers, often more than 30.

After The (Raleigh) News & Observer revealed Austin’s partial transcript and it was found that former defensive end Michael McAdoo had plagiarized parts of a paper he submitted for one of Nyang’oro’s classes, and the plagiarism went undetected, UNC launched an internal investigation of the department.

Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said student athletes make up a larger proportion of students in summer classes than they do in the regular academic year.

“I think some of that is we’re trying to get all of the students that have those other commitments to graduate in four years,” he said.

In addition to the academic advising all students receive through the academic advising program in Steele Building, student athletes also receive help from the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes, part of the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling.

Harold Woodard, the director of the center, said athletes’ support program staff help student athletes schedule classes, though that is not part of their official responsibilities. He said the family and friends of student athletes also play a large role in the class selection process.

Bobbi Owen, who oversees the academic advising program as senior dean for undergraduate education, said students get advice on what classes to take from a variety of places. “I think word of mouth is the most potent one.”

Owen said course selection doesn’t fall under the purview of the staff of the academic support program for student athletes.

“Those professional counselors are not academic advisers.”

Woodard said part of the program’s mission is to counteract misinformation athletes receive from others who give them advice.

Woodard said since he took over the program in July 2009, it has become more focused on its primary mission of assisting the student athletes, and that advising was not his staff’s responsibility.

“The primary (advising) role is held by their Steele Building adviser, and it will remain that way as long as I’m in charge,” he said.

Jan Yopp, dean of summer school, said the school has implemented changes since the release of the report.

Brandon Moree and Matthew Cox contributed reporting.

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