Column: Goodbye Nyang’oro, hello to integrity

When Julius Nyang’oro resigned last week, it was several years too late.

Nyang’oro, the former chairman of UNC’s African and Afro-American studies department, stepped down after stories by the (Raleigh) News & Observer revealed that he missed ­— or perhaps ignored — plagiarism by former football player Michael McAdoo, gave former football player Marvin Austin a suspiciously high grade — and hired a sports agent to teach a class.

It became clear that Nyang’oro was one of the biggest-known threats to UNC’s much-touted academic integrity, so it was nice of him to pleasantly step down, especially in light of Chancellor Holden

Thorp’s call for an investigation into the department.

University registrar data on the class rating website unc.blinkness.com shows that between 2003 and 2009, Nyang’oro gave out 74 percent As, 25 percent Bs and 1 percent Cs to a total of 1,126 students.

These numbers might not seem out of place in an elementary school classroom, but they should have been scoffed at in the rigorous academic atmosphere the University claims to value.

Instead, many of Nyang’oro’s colleagues followed his lead.

Another professor in the department, Robert Porter, gave out between 57 and 94 percent As in his 25 classes in the same period.

The consensus from anonymous reviewers on Blinkness was that participation and attendance would be enough to get an A. Several others also said a bit of reading might not hurt.

But despite the low academic standards — or perhaps because of them — the comments indicate he is a favorite of students, inspiring words of praise online and a loyal classroom following.

At the opposite end of the spectrum was professor Kenneth Janken, who gave out grades along a bell curve but was almost universally reviled in online comments as a professor to “avoid at all costs” and who “needs to learn to respect students.”

As one who got a harsh awakening from a Geology 101 class in which the professor gave out 4 percent As (yes, I still remember that from sophomore year), I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a single comment scolding the others:

“I feel as if the reason anyone would not like his class is because they do not read and have nothing to contribute,” the student wrote about Janken. “If you are interested in AFAM I would highly recommend him as a professor, just be willing to put time in. This is college, I don’t think you should expect to get easy A’s — you should work for them!”

Amen.

So let’s not stop with this department. Administrators should investigate all the departments that inflate grades so far that the University’s integrity pops.

Students (myself included) won’t like it, professors might not like it and our sleep schedules certainly won’t like it either. But we’re paying for a stellar education, not a stellar transcript.

In this hyper-competitive world, that might be a hard pill to swallow.

But we’ll all be better for it in the long run.

Anyone who truly believes in the lofty ideal of academic integrity must desire it at all steps, not just on the football field.

Thanks for reading.

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