Correction: due to a reporting error, the June 21 story should have stated that the board’s panel has not yet set a date for its first meeting.
Clarification: Another important factor in the University’s decision not to fire Nyang’oro is because it could have resulted in a lengthy, costly appeal.
In an attempt to end concerns about findings of academic fraud in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, the UNC-system Board of Governors formed a four-member panel to review the University’s investigation.
The University’s investigation uncovered issues with record keeping and teaching practices within the department. The University released a report on its findings in May.
The board’s panel has not set a meeting date yet. Hari Nath, a panel member, said panel members will draft a charter and define the scope of its investigation at the meeting.
“It is basically a review of their investigation,” he said.
“If we find that their investigation was not comprehensive, then we will report it to the board,” Nath said.
Board chairwoman Hannah Gage selected the panel members.
She said the panel’s investigation will allow the university system to focus on other issues.
“It has been like Chinese water torture,” she said. “Every time we are at the bottom, there are more drips.”
“I hope in the not-too-distant future, we get beyond the academic fraud controversy so everyone can focus on our academic mission,” she said.
Gage said the panel members are not closely aligned with UNC-CH or N.C. State University, which she said will eliminate any potential bias amongst panel members.
Other panel members include Louis Bissette, Walter Davenport and Ann Goodnight.
Chancellor Holden Thorp said the board’s panel will function similarly to the subcommittee of the University’s faculty executive committee that is already reviewing the investigation.
“We welcome all the assistance that we can get to resolve the issues that are in front of us, and make sure we are moving on in the right way,” Thorp said.
Nath said the review is necessary to ensure academic integrity is maintained.
“People who receive degrees from these programs should feel proud of what they are earning,” he said. “Now if someone sees a degree from them, the thoughts become whether the degree was earned based on the allegations that have taken place.”
The introduction of a panel comes as board members have expressed concern with the transparency of the University’s investigation.
Board member Fred Eshelman said the reports concerning academic integrity should have been communicated earlier. He said the lack of information has prevented board committees from ensuring adherence to ethical standards.
Nath said he sympathized with concerns about the delay in communicating information to board members, but said he understood UNC-system President Thomas Ross’ position that it would be better to wait for investigations to be complete before releasing results.
Ross said he believes the panel is necessary, but does not expect additional academic fraud to be discovered.
“I don’t think there’s a view on campus that another investigation would help us find anything we don’t already know,” Ross said.
Peter Hans, who will become chairman of the board July 1, said he supported the establishment of a panel.
“I know that going forward we will be transparent and will be focused on the academic integrity of the university,” he said.
The University’s report linked former department chair Julius Nyang’oro to many of the more than 50 courses found to be aberrant or irregularly taught — meaning courses were not supervised appropriately by professors or that signatures on students’ work and grade rolls were forged.
Board members asked why Nyang’oro — who stepped down as department chair in September and will retire as a professor July 1 — was not fired.
Thorp said Nyang’oro would still have the ability to draw state pension had he been fired — which was an important factor in University officials’ decision to allow Nyang’oro’s retirement.
A spokeswoman for the College of Arts and Sciences declined interview requests on behalf of Karen Gil, dean of the College, and Jonathan Hartlyn, senior associate dean of the college.
Gil said in a statement that the college will cooperate with the panel’s review.
Contact the University Editor at email@example.com.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.