After one of two people found through multiple investigations to have orchestrated fraudulent courses in UNC’s African and Afro-American Studies department was indicted three months ago, some might have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.
But Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall has essentially said it won’t, announcing Tuesday he would not pursue criminal charges against former department administrator Deborah Crowder based on a State Bureau of Investigation probe.
Julius Nyang’oro, the former department chairman, was indicted in December for accepting $12,000 for teaching a course that never met.
Woodall said in an interview that it is common for initial suspects like Crowder to cooperate and not be charged in criminal investigations.
“She had cooperated with the investigation and agreed to continue, has continued to cooperate, and has also agreed to cooperate with Ken Wainstein, who is conducting the independent investigation,” he said.
Chancellor Carol Folt announced a few weeks ago that Wainstein, an attorney with 19 years of experience in the U.S. Justice Department, will conduct his own independent inquiry at a $990 per hour rate based on new information discovered in the State Bureau of Investigation’s probe.
In August of 2012, former Gov. Jim Martin was commissioned by then-Chancellor Holden Thorp to conduct his own independent review, which resulted in a 74-page report detailing academic irregularities dating back to 1997 in the department. The report, released in December of 2012, laid all blame for the fraudulent courses on Nyang’oro and Crowder, who had both already left the University.
But Martin was never able to interview either of them.
“The people who were suspected of doing this, Professor Nyang’oro and Debby Crowder, neither one of them would talk to us … and we were all at a disadvantage with that,” Martin said in an interview Tuesday.
Martin said based on his findings, Crowder had a direct role in the management of the irregular courses. He said several students he interviewed in fraudulent courses claimed they turned in their papers to Crowder, thinking she was the person who graded them, even though she was not a professor.
“But we don’t know that for sure because nobody saw the papers being graded, with quotations around the word ‘graded,’” he said.
Martin said he is glad Crowder is now cooperating, despite her refusal to do so during his review.
“It was just a fact of life,” Martin said. “If you were in their position, your lawyer would advise you not to talk, so I understood that. We made an effort to contact them, and they did not respond.”
Woodall said he could not discuss why Crowder was not charged or if she had done anything that would have warranted charges had she not cooperated with the SBI’s investigation.
Martin said he could only speculate on what she could have been charged with, if anything. He said Woodall had previously mentioned to him that someone could be charged for forging signatures of eight department professors on grade rolls and changes, but Martin was not able to find evidence of who did the alleged forging.
Crowder’s attorney, Brian Vick, released a statement Tuesday saying Crowder was looking forward to working with Wainstein.
“She believes that it is important for the full and unvarnished truth to come out and intends to provide Mr. Wainstein with as much knowledge as she has about the independent study classes that were offered during her tenure with the Department of African and Afro-Studies at UNC,” he said.
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