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The Daily Tar Heel

Wainstein report was latest to chronicle UNC's academic fraud

The investigation by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein and his team of Washington, D.C., lawyers took eight months and $3.1 million to complete and uncovered what happened in the former Department of African and Afro-American Studies between 1993 and 2011.

Former secretary Deborah Crowder and former African and Afro-American studies department chairman Julius Nyang’oro created thousands of paper classes that more than 3,100 students enrolled in.

The classes did not require students to attend class or complete any assignments, except one — a paper due at the end of the semester that Crowder, a nonfaculty member, would grade extremely leniently.

Wainstein, who was retained by the University in February for an hourly rate of $990, found that student-athletes accounted for nearly half of the enrollments in these fake classes for the nearly two decades in which they existed.

“Was this an academic or an athletic issue? Clearly it was an issue in both areas. It was a University issue,” Chancellor Carol Folt said at the Oct. 22 report release press conference.

At the press conference, Folt announced that nine University employees would face disciplinary action, including four who were already terminated. UNC-system President Tom Ross also said an employee at another university in the system would face disciplinary action — an employee who was later identified by a source close to the situation as Beth Bridger, a former associate director of the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes who was working at UNC-Wilmington.

“We’re being described by a set of actions that took place in our history, but I’m not going to accept that,” Folt said in an October interview.

But the University has not released any official word on the nine employees or named them publically. In November, 10 media organizations, including The Daily Tar Heel, filed a suit against the University for the information.

The report followed a year filled with new subplots to the ever-growing athletic scandal.

This year started with former athletic tutor Mary Willingham’s study, which she released to CNN in January, revealing 60 percent of 183 student-athletes she tested could only read between a fourth- and eighth-grade level.

Following the publication of her study, Willingham met with Provost Jim Dean to discuss her findings — research that Willingham said she had already shown the University.

“I know that they’re going to come back and tell me that it’s wrong,” Willingham said in January. “They deny and they deny, and that’s not helping students.”

“There’s a pretty good track record of how many times this data, the data that the athletic department fought and paid for. There’s a pretty good track record of all the times it’s been given back to them, so here’s one more time.”

Willingham’s research was reviewed by a board of three outside professorsfrom the University of Minnesota, Georgia State University and University of Virginia.

The board determined the processes in which Willingham used to determine the athletes’ literacy did not accurately gauge the reading ability.

Willingham used the Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults and SAT scores to evaluate literacy levels, as well as ACT scores, grade point averages, credit hours and academic standing information.

“While SATA RV (the 25-question, multiple choice vocabulary subtest) results can be informative as part of screening for learning differences and/or disabilities, they are not accepted by the psychological community as an appropriate measure of reading grade level and literacy,” the board’s press release said in April.

In April, Willingham resigned after an hour-long meeting with Folt.

“I’ve been thinking all along about how hard it is to come to work every day, you know there’s always the whisper campaign around you, there’s people who are for you but they don’t want to say,” she said. “There’s people who are against you who don’t want to say.”

Willingham eventually sued the University at the end of June, saying UNC violated her First Amendment rights, did not provide her protection under the state’s whistleblower protection law and created a hostile working environment for her.

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“We respect the right of any current or former employee to speak out on important University and national issues,” said Joel Curran, vice chancellor for communication and public affairs. “We believe the facts will demonstrate that Ms. Willingham was treated fairly and appropriately while she was employed at Carolina.”

The lawsuit said Willingham wants to be reinstated at her old position.