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Reports challenge UNC scandal’s 1993 start date

Now, conflicting information between the Wainstein report and the University’s response to its accrediting agency has some wondering whether that date was created to protect the 1993 national championship-winning men’s basketball team.

The University received a letter from its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, on Nov. 13 that named 18 association policies that were violated at UNC.

A data table included in the response letter to the accrediting agency titled “Enrollments in Irregular Courses, By Academic Year” lists data beginning with the 1989-1990 academic year and shows that four athletes were enrolled in irregular courses in the department in 1989.

Rick White, a spokesman for the University, said in several emails that the data in the table is drawn from information in the exhibits accompanying the Wainstein Report.

“We stand by the two reports and encourage them to be read holistically,” White said. “We’re not going to comment on individual sentences, data points or paragraphs, nor will we compare or contrast the reports and specific passages from them.”

White said the tables in the response to the accrediting agency are just summaries by year of the same tables in the Wainstein exhibits.

He referenced a corresponding chart in the supplemental Wainstein documents that also presents data beginning in 1989 titled “Enrollments in AFAM Independent Studies, 1989-2011.”

Joseph Jay, who co-authored the report with former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein, said the charts presented in the Wainstein report include both irregular and regular enrollments in independent studies.

Jay said Wainstein’s team reviewed grade rosters for independent studies courses in the Department of African and Afro-American studies between 1989 and 2011 with former department chairman Julius Nyang’oro and former secretary Deborah Crowder.

In doing so, they were able to confirm irregularities as early as 1993. Jay said it’s possible irregularities occurred earlier, but neither Nyang’oro nor Crowder could be sure.

“We could not isolate irregular enrollments from regular enrollments given the manner in which students were enrolled in AFAM and AFRI independent studies,” Jay said.

As a result, Jay said, the charts in the supplemental Wainstein report documents present data for all independent studies in the department between 1989 and 2011.

The supplementary chart to the Wainstein report says four athletes — three basketball players and a football player — were enrolled in independent studies in spring 1990. The University’s response to the accrediting agency said four athletes were enrolled in irregular independent studies.

Both White and Jay said there are no discrepancies or contradictions between their respective data charts.

Belle Wheelan, president of the accrediting agency, refused to comment for this story.

Loose threads to pull

Jay Smith, a UNC history professor who authored a book on the athletic-academic scandal with former athletic learning specialist Mary Willingham, said he felt it was necessary to do his own digging into the improprieties.

“I think there are a lot of loose threads from the Wainstein report that need to be pulled on a little bit,” he said.

Nyang’oro was named chairman of the department in 1992 and the Wainstein report identifies this promotion as the spark for the entire scandal, as his leadership style allowed for Crowder to create and abuse the paper class system.

Nyang’oro could not be reached for comment.

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Smith said he and Willingham identified independent studies courses as early as the fall of 1988 that listed Nyang’oro as the instructor, an indicator of irregularity since Nyang’oro was found to be at the center of the improprieties alongside Crowder.

“It’s that course that really initiated or launched the system because it was a course that was created for two basketball players,” he said.

After the initial course in the fall of 1988, Smith said irregularities largely disappeared until the fall of 1989, when Nyang’oro became a full professor in the department.

“Then it continues pretty much uninterrupted for the next 20-plus years,” he said.

Starting line questioned

Smith said there might be a hidden reason for pegging the scandal’s beginning to 1993.

“The 1993 date is somewhat arbitrary,” Smith said. “And you have to wonder whether that date wasn’t something given to Wainstein by Debby Crowder and Julius (Nyang’oro) themselves, perhaps as a way of protecting the ‘93 team — the ‘93 championship team.”

Smith said the courses before then could have been legitimate but simply irregular in their accommodation of student athletes.

But Smith said the date could also protect a championship-winning basketball team.

“If the narrative is to be changed, if the date is to be pushed back, then that ‘93 team falls under a cloud in the same way that the other two are under a cloud.”

Smith said changing the start date has serious implications for both the basketball program and the bigger picture surrounding the scandal.

“If we push the date back and we trace this thing to its roots, we get a better sense of the sorts of systemic pressures that were operative here, that were brought to bear and that will always, I think, threaten academic integrity.”