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Wainstein report reveals extent of academic scandal at UNC

A sweeping investigation released today revealed the grim truth of what happened in the former Department of Afro and African-American Studies.

For almost two decades, former administrative assistant Deborah Crowder and former department chairman Julius Nyang’oro created fake classes that allowed student-athletes to receive high marks and maintain eligibility, according to a University-commissioned report released today.

Kenneth Wainstein, a white collar defense attorney and chairman of the investigations group at the Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft law firm, said he found clear evidence that academic counselors from the football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams asked for players to be enrolled in bogus independent study classes in order for them to be eligible.

"We found evidence that both Crowder and Nyang’oro received requests that they award specific grades to certain student-athletes," the former federal prosecutor said in his 136-page report.

In an interview Wednesday, Wainstein said athletic counselors knew these classes were grade point average boosters and steered athletes toward them for that reason.

"I feel shocked and very disappointed," a somber Chancellor Carol Folt said in an interview Wednesday.

Bad decisions by a few individuals and the inaction of many allowed the academic misconduct to become so wide-reaching, Folt said. Folt took over in the 2013-14 academic year after former Chancellor Holden Thorp stepped down in the midst of the scandal. 

Five categories of irregularity

Wainstein’s team broke down the academic irregularities into five categories, with independent study courses and lecture paper courses as the two main components of the impropriety.

Independent study classes required only one paper that would be submitted to Crowder, a non-faculty administrator, for completion. Crowder said in the report that she mostly skimmed  the papers — usually reading just the introductions and conclusion — before assigning a high grade for the course, usually an A or a B. Crowder did not typically consult or alert professors about changing students' grades, the report said.

Between 1989 and 2011, the report said there were 2,707 student enrollments in independent study classes. Of those 2,707 enrollments, Wainstein’s team determined 686 were student-athletes.

Of the 30 students who took six or more independent studies, 50 percent were athletes.

Lecture paper classes were assigned a course section that appeared as a typical lecture course but were taught as an independent study course by Crowder. The report said the first of these courses was administered in 1999.

By the time Crowder retired in 2009, there were 3,906 students enrolled in these courses. Of those enrollments, 1,852 students, or 47.4 percent, were athletes.

While Wainstein’s team had difficulty determining a precise number of how many students were impacted, the report said more than 3,100 students received irregular instruction in the Afro and African-American studies paper classes. 

“While that number very likely falls short of the true number, it is as close as we can get to a definitive total without engaging in speculation,” Wainstein's report said.

Not just an academic scandal anymore

In previous reviews, the scandal was labeled as an academic scandal — with no direct involvement from the Department of Athletics. In his investigation in 2012, former N.C. Gov. Jim Martin stressed the academic irregularities were isolated to the Afro and African-American studies department and that Nyang’oro and Crowder were largely responsible.

But Wainstein’s report stated multiple counselors within the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes as well as former head football coaches John Bunting and Butch Davis knew of the easy, single-paper-based classes. The counselors steered athletes with eligibility issues toward the bogus classes, the report found.

“It was clear to us that the overriding purpose of these classes was to serve as ‘GPA boosters’ (a term that tutor Jennifer Wiley said was used within ASPSA) that allowed students to remain in good academic and athletic standing,” the report said.

Folt acknowledged that the academic fraud within the Afro and African-American studies department became both an academic and athletic problem.

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“It is just very clear that it was an academic issue with the way the courses were administered, and it is clearly an athletics issue,” she said.

UNC-system president Tom Ross agreed.

“I think it started with the academics side and the athletic department took advantage of that,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

While the report focused on the origin of these paper classes and the relationship between the department and athletics, Folt said she was equally concerned with the amount of non-athletes who took the courses.

“The 52 percent non-athletes are just as troubling to me as the 48 percent athletes,” she said, referring to the breakdown of the students who were enrolled in the lecture paper classes.

A PowerPoint presentation football academic counselors gave to the football coaching staff in the fall of 2009 — when Crowder was retiring — was the clearest piece of evidence Wainstein and his team collected that demonstrated coaches' knowledge of and participation in the athletes' academic misconduct. 

“(The counselors) were painfully aware that Crowder’s retirement would require the whole football team to adjust to the new reality of having to meet the academic requirements with real academic work," the report said. 

"(The counselors) conveyed this point loud and clear in a meeting with all of the football coaches in November 2009."

A PowerPoint slide included in the report was titled “What was part of the solution in the past?” and listed the ways players were able to avoid doing actual work in these classes, including not having to meet with professors, go to class or stay awake.

“THESE NO LONGER EXIST,” the bottom of the slide said, alerting the coaches.

The presentation also showed a breakdown of a few players’ GPAs in the paper classes versus traditional courses.

“The average (Afro and African-American studies) paper class GPAs for these players was 3.61 — far higher than their average GPA of 1.917 for their other classes,” the report said. 

The final word

Administrators are hoping Wainstein’s report will be the final chapter in a scandal that has dominated University news since 2010.

With the participation of several key players from the academic realm, Wainstein’s report differed from the reports done by former Gov. Jim Martin and the State Bureau of Investigations.

In 2013, grand jury indicted Jennifer Wiley Thompson, a former tutor in the Department of Athletics, for steering UNC football players to agent Terry Watson. Nyang'oro was indicted in December for accepting $12,000 for teaching a class that never met.

Both had their charges dropped by Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall after agreeing to speak with Wainstein about their involvement in academic misconduct at the University.

Woodall also agreed to forgo pursuing criminal charges against Crowder because she agreed to cooperate in the county’s investigation. At the time, he said Crowder agreed to provide Wainstein information for his report.

“That was absolutely critical,” Wainstein said about Nyang’oro and Crowder’s participation.

He said all previous reports, while very well done, were handicapped by the lack of access to the two key players.

“Without them, you couldn’t really get these answers — the answers we needed,” he said.

Folt said this investigation unearthed all of the information she would need to put the scandal behind the University. She said the fact Wainstein was completely independent of the University ensured this.

“The most important part is that we are making it absolutely and completely public,” Folt said.

“We have a whole series of changes, including personnel changes.”

Planning for the next steps

The Wainstein report unearthed that several current UNC employees played a role in implementing and utilizing the paper classes.

UNC now faces the challenges of responding.

“Make no mistake, we are going to take action,” Folt said.

Among those implicated was former faculty chairwoman and current philosophy professor Jan Boxill — she was mentioned frequently for her former role as an academic counselor for the women’s basketball team.

“Our email review disclosed several instances where Boxill made specific grade suggestions for her woman basketball players,” the report said. “Boxill continued these grade suggestions after Crowder retired.”

Nyang’oro was asked by Boxill for specific grades for specific players once Crowder retired, according to the report.

“He recalled one particular situation when he gave a women’s basketball player a B+ even though he felt her paper was ‘terrible’ and was a ‘clear F.’ He assigned that grade because Boxill had suggested he do so,” the report said.

The report also said Boxill steered women’s basketball players to the fake courses.

“In fact, one email chain suggests that Nyang’oro would not consider a women’s basketball player’s request to enroll in one of his paper classes unless Boxill explicitly supports her request,” the report said. 

Folt would not comment on current employees implicated in the report, saying she respects their privacy on the matter.

"What's extremely important to me is that we do this in a very fair way, that we give due process to the people involved," Folt said.

Through interviews, Wainstein said his team gathered that there was a sense that people did not believe academic impropriety of this magnitude could occur at a place like UNC.

He also said the organizational structures that allowed for the department and its administrators to remain unchecked attributed to how the issue grew so large — the same structure Folt said has already begun to change.

“It was a shock I don’t even think people could fathom,” Folt said.

Ross said the decision to retain Wainstein was the correct one.

“We told him from the get-go, you do the interviews and you follow it where it leads you and we will cooperate,” Ross said. “And that’s what he did.”