Fraud Charge Against Nyang’oro Dropped

A prosecutor says he has dismissed a felony fraud charge against a former North Carolina professor linked to a scandal involving academics and athletics.

In a statement Thursday, Orange County district attorney Jim Woodall said he dropped the charge after Julius Nyang’oro cooperated with the criminal investigation and an independent probe into fraud in the department where Nyang’oro served as chairman.

A grand jury indicted Nyang’oro in December for obtaining property by false pretenses. He was charged with receiving $12,000 to teach a summer 2011 lecture class that did not meet. The class, filled with football players, was treated as an independent study requiring a research paper.

Former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein is leading the independent probe into the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies department.

UNC’s Academic Scandal Oversight

Professor emerita of Slavic literature at UNC, Madeline Levine says the only way Julius Nyang’oro could have been caught cheating the system was if his colleagues or students reported the wrongdoings.

“Unless a chair’s colleagues comes forward with complaints, there is no way that a dean at any level will know that something is wrong—well, colleagues and students,” Levine says.

She says a certain level of trust has to be involved.

“If you approach your colleagues and faculty as if everybody is a potential scoundrel, how could you possibly run a university?” Levine asks. “How could you run a business if you thought all of your employees were potential scoundrels?”

Last week, UNC learning specialist Bradley Bethel said the deans of the College of Arts and Science should have been more involved in the review of Nyang’oro’s teaching and should have seen the signs. Levine served as interim dean during the 2006-07 school year when Nyang’oro was reappointed as chair of the African and Afro-American Studies Department.

Levine says Bethel’s thoughts are off base.

“He has no idea how a university works on the faculty side, and he clearly has not idea how the administration of the college works,” Levine says. “He mentions that he came from a K-12 background, which is great. But, he taught at a middle school at some point that probably had fewer students in it than the College of Arts and Sciences has faculty members who have to be overseen. So, to indicate that when he was in the K-12 system, classes were overseen by a head and the supervisor, and that was done all the time, and then to suggest that that should be done at the university level is totally to misunderstand the scale, the size, and what is done at a university where professionalism is supposed to reign.”

She adds that the steps that have been taken to increase oversight and the potential of adding additional oversight are unnecessary.

“Perhaps the decision to have people peek in and check that classes meet was a matter of desperation and to show the public that we take things seriously,” Levine says. “I doubt that during the peeping in through the doorway glass produced anything that would show that there is a problem at UNC with faculty not teaching.”

Nyang’oro’s term as AFAM chair concluded in academic year 2006-07, and a new chair needed to be selected. Arne Kalleberg was the Senior Associated Dean for Social Sciences and International Programs from 2004 to 2007. It was his job to review Nyang’oro’s work as chair by talking with faculty within the department.

Levine says all professors have their teaching and research reviewed, including post-tenure reviews, but Nyang’oro’s reappointment would not have included a performance review other than of his management of the department.

“There are all sorts of layers of review of teaching ability, review of research productivity, and so on that go on throughout the years,” Levine says. “There are post-tenure reviews, too. But, they can’t be conflated with the review of chairs as administrators.”

Kalleberg is currently in England and said in an email that he couldn’t be reached by phone. However, he confirmed what Levine says that the review did not cover research or teaching performance and that he wasn’t expected to submit any information.

He said his review was made up of interviews with faculty members assessing their satisfaction with Nyang’oro’s managerial performance as well as suggestions for who would be a good chair.

Kalleberg’s recommendation was passed on to Levine to make the final decision. He said he was convinced that Nyang’oro was the best person to hold the chair position for another term, which he said the department supported in the interviews.

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted a story on January 6 that includes a statement from UNC Department of Political Science Chair Evelyn Huber saying AFAM faculty members told her they had been unhappy with Nyang’oro’s leadership for a long time. She said she was told he acted like a dictator, not involving others in the department’s decision making. Huber was named interim chair of the AFAM department in 2011 after Nyang’oro resigned.

Huber told WCHL that she doesn’t want to comment further on what was said in 2011 versus 2006. She says the Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies (formerly AFAM) has a strong chair now in Eunice Sahle and that her colleagues want to move beyond the tainted past.

Levine says she continues to believe that athletics have played some role in the academic scandal at UNC, despite Jim Martin’s review. The former North Carolina governor reported that the incident only involved the AFAM department chair and his department administrator Deborah Crowder.

“If there was one rogue professor, why? For what reason?,” Levine asks. “What are the connections with athletics? It’s nonsense, I think, to say this is solely failure to academic oversight and that it doesn’t involve the department of athletics.”

Levine says she was recently interviewed as part of the Kenneth Waintstein investigation. She says she believes she was on the phone with Wainstein along with his associate Joseph Jay.

Wainstein is an attorney and the former Assistant Attorney General for National Security and Homeland Security Advisor to President George W. Bush. He is currently investigating UNC and has been instructed to go where the evidence leads him and uncover anything there is to uncover.

Levine says she wasn’t asked by Wainstein or Jay about the reappointment of Nyang’oro as chair in the 2006-07 academic year when she was interim dean.

Willingham Blasts NCAA For Academic Improprieties

CHAPEL HILL – UNC clinical instructor and academic advisor, Mary Willingham said the academic problems at Carolina and at colleges and universities across the country start with the NCAA. 

“This NCAA cartel machine is doing us wrong in this country and doing our young people some damage,” Willingham said. “Meanwhile, these folks are in Indiannoplis—and around the country, coaches and administrators—are making tons of money off the backs of these young people, and it’s got to stop.”

Those comments were made during an interview Friday on the WCHL Morning News.

***Watch the Full Interview***

***Correction from the interview: The IRB is the Institutional Review Board, not the Internal Review Board.

She said the admission of guilt by the university, and namely UNC Provost Jim Dean, that there were holes in the academic system is not enough.

“I really encourage (Provost Dean) to talk to us about what we know—Jay and I and others in the Athletic Reform Group—and open the door and have a real open conversation, because that has yet to happen at our university,” Willingham said. “It’s a university for crying out loud. We should all be able to sit around the room and have honest conversation and debate about what we know.”

Provost Dean was quoted in a Bloomberg Business Week article saying “We made mistakes. Horrible things happened that I’m ashamed of. Student-athletes and other students, too, were hurt. The integrity of our university was badly damaged.”

History professor Jay Smith was in the interview as well and announced that he—in collaboration with Willingham—is writing a book that talks about the history of the academic scandal at UNC in the African and Afro-American studies department and the illiteracy problems at UNC and at colleges and universities across the nation.

Smith said he, too, wants to see something more than just words come from the recent allegations of UNC’s academic improprieties.

“There’s nothing qualitatively different from any number of statements Holden Thorp made over the past several years before he left,” Smith said. “Holden, too, was willing to acknowledge mistakes had been made and that we had to be held accountable for them. Though, at least it does, on their part, signal a new willingness to look at the past and consider which lessons need to be derived from the past. So that’s…that is somewhat heartening.”

Willingham has been seen by many as an enemy to the university when she shared her research. She received death threats and was even called a liar by Provost Dean when he said in a Business Week article “she’s said that our students can’t read, our athletes can’t read, and that’s a lie.” Later in the interview for the article with Business Week’s Paul Barrett, the Provost said he had misspoken and doesn’t think that she’s a liar.

Willingham said she didn’t release the information with the intention of taking down the university.

“I really am a Tar Heel,” Willingham said. “I know what’s heard to believe, but I love this place.”

She said she wants to see a change in the way student-athletes are taken care of at the university and how they are viewed within the system.

“We had a countless number of athletes that I worked with during my tenure—nearly seven years—in the program that left without a real degree,” Willingham said. “We still don’t talk about those guys. They took all these bogus paper classes, and they left the university still woefully underprepared for probably even a high school. That’s wrong, and we owe them. We need to bring them back, and we need to offer them the possibility of a real, legitimate education. That’s what we promised them in the first place.”

She said that she’s not even saying that students who can’t read at a college level don’t have a place at UNC, but that those who are at a disadvantage need to be protected.

“I’ve never said that athletes or any students at Carolina don’t belong at Carolina,” Willingham said. “It’s a public university; it’s a university of the people. But I think if we’re going to take students in, then we need to meet them where they’re at academically and bring them along. That’s all students.”

“I think we still have this, some sort of arrogance or some level of problem—I don’t know exactly where it comes from—because in 1795 we had an academy at the University of North Carolina for young men from the state who weren’t able to read in Greek and Latin,” Willingham said. “That academy lasted for a decade or a little bit more. Why don’t we just reopen the academy, and we could have the best football team and the best basketball team in the country. We could recruit whoever we wanted, and we could provide a real education.”

Thursday evening the News and Observer shared a letter that former interim dean of UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences and current Kenan Professor Emerita of Slavic Literatures, Madeline Levine wrote to Chancellor Carol Folt and Provost Jim Dean expressing her disappointment in the attack of the information shared by Willingham.

In the letter, she said she, too, saw evidence of students that’s were just pushed through the system and weren’t given a proper education.

Willingham said she expects this is just the first of many to follow in her push for academic reform.

“I have more than 2,000 emails,” Willingham said. “I’m hearing from people all over the country. They’re embarrassed; they feel some shame, because they don’t want to speak publically, and I’m certainly not going to bring anyone under the bus with me, because it’s not too pretty under here. But, nevertheless, I think that coming out and talking openly has given some people permission, and I think you’re going to hear from more people. I don’t think Dr. Levine’s going to be the only one stepping forward.”

Folt: UNC Responsible For Phony Classes, But “Getting It Right”

CHAPEL HILL – At a meeting of the Board of Trustees Thursday, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said the University accepts responsibility for past misdeeds regarding academic oversight.

But she also said she supports UNC’s current course of action to ensure those misdeeds don’t recur in the future.

“We’re saying very directly that we understand it, we accept responsibility for it, (but) at the same time, we’re putting in immense effort to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she told reporters.

Among other things, “it” refers to the anomalous and phony classes offered during a period of more than a decade in the African and Afro-American Studies Department (AFAM). Former department chair Julius Nyang’oro has already been indicted in connection with those classes; District Attorney Jim Woodall says more indictments may be yet to come.

It’s still an open question whether those courses were created solely to provide athletes with an easy grade to maintain their eligibility. UNC has avoided additional NCAA sanctions because there’s no direct evidence of that being the case—but Folt said either way, the problem was larger than that.

“Although we don’t have evidence that the anomalous courses were initiated in order to benefit athletes, close to half who did enroll were student-athletes,” she said. “(But) many students were involved in those courses, (and) all of those students who were involved in those courses deserved better from us.”

Afterwards, speaking to reporters, Folt went even further.

“Courses that have no faculty oversight – that’s a real betrayal of our commitment to our students,” she said.

And she said that betrayal was the result of a long-term “failure in academic oversight.”

“This too was wrong,” she said, “and it has undermined our integrity and our reputation – and it’s created a very unhealthy atmosphere of distrust.”

That “atmosphere of distrust,” of course, came to the surface in the last few weeks—in the emotional response to academic advisor Mary Willingham’s assertion that many UNC athletes read below an eighth-grade level and that officials in the academic support center turned a blind eye to evidence of phony classes and plagiarism.

High-ranking UNC officials—including Folt—spoke out vehemently against Willingham at a faculty council meeting last week; Provost Jim Dean called her research “a travesty.” But the attacks also got personal as well: Willingham says she even received death threats after going public with her concerns earlier this month.

In response to that, Folt sent an email to the campus community this week calling for civility—a call she reiterated on Thursday.

“This type of dialogue is essential to a University community,” she said. “But whether we’re going to agree or disagree, we have to really make this a healthy debate. We have to welcome it. And we have to respect each other in this debate, and do it in ways that show the true character of our Carolina community.”

But while she discussed the AFAM scandal in more detail, Folt had little to say about Willingham’s charges, which have occupied the more recent headlines.

“We have an external panel coming forward,” she told reporters, “and we’ll talk to you about it when that’s complete.”

Still, Folt did insist that Willingham was still welcome at Carolina.

“She absolutely is continuing her work,” she said. “The studies you’ve read have not been part of her job here.”

The central message of Thursday’s meeting, though, was that UNC officials—and the Board of Trustees—support what the University is doing now to address the ongoing issues surrounding academics and athletics. That includes a working group led by Provost Jim Dean and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham.

“Our Board expectation is straightforward,” said Board Chair Lowry Caudill. “We want to compete academically and athletically at the highest levels with utmost integrity. We are pleased that our improvements over the past several years, and our current efforts, are leading to a sustainable approach.”

Speaking after the meeting, Chancellor Folt agreed.

“There isn’t a faculty member, or a staff member, or (anyone) that’s a part of this that don’t want to get it right,” she said.

Nyang’oro’s Story To Be Told In Court Soon

NEW YORK – Since news broke that African and Afro-American Studies Department Chair Julius Nyang’oro was holding fraudulent classes at UNC, everyone has wanted to hear his side of the story, but he’s been silent.

On January 7, Nyang’oro will be back in court after his first appearance in which he was also silent–not even entering a plea.

Sarah Lyall is a writer-at-large at the New York Times. On New Year’s Eve, she wrote an article ‘A’s for Athletes, but Charges of Fraud at North Carolina‘ in which she revisited the topic of AFAM and Nyang’oro.

Thursday on the WCHL Morning News, Lyall spoke with WCHL’s Ran Northam about the article and the case itself.

***Listen to the Interview***

Former UNC AFAM Chair Indicted By OC Grand Jury

HILLSBOROUGH – Former UNC African and Afro-American Studies chair Julius Nyang’oro faces one felony charge placed by an OrangeCounty grand jury Monday morning.

Orange and Chatham County District Attorney Jim Woodall says hundreds of thousands of documents were part of the investigation that concluded about a month ago and lasted nearly a year and a half. He says, from the beginning, he said that he didn’t believe there would be many if any criminal charges against anyone involved, and he couldn’t justify continuing the investigation.

“Quite frankly, we could have continued the investigation, because there are always avenues, more people that could be interviewed,” Woodall says. “But the agent and I decided the active investigation needed to be shut down because we had taken it as far as we felt we should.”

Woodall alleges Nyang’oro accepted $12,000 for a summer class he did not teach. If convicted, that charge will likely not result in time in prison.

“Whenever this investigation started, I told media outlets that I doubted there would be criminal charges,” Woodall says. “If there were criminal charges, I felt like they would be relatively minor. Now this is a felony charge which is a serious charge, but in the scheme of things, it’s one of the lower-level felony charges.”

He says the legality of the issue has been somewhat overblown.

“I felt that this was primarily an issue of academic integrity with the University,” Woodall says. “People have referred to this as academic fraud which is not a good thing obviously, but it’s not necessarily illegal.”

Woodall says while the investigation has concluded, there could be additional charges.

“There’s the potential for at least one other person to be charged,” Woodall says. “If that person is charged, that would probably happen in January. There are no current UNC employees who are the subjects of any investigation.”

Woodall did not name any names, but those charges could come against longtime AFAM department manager Deborah Crowder.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said in a statement, ““The action described in today’s indictment is completely inconsistent with the standards and aspirations of this great institution. This has been a difficult chapter in the University’s history, and we have learned many lessons. I am confident, because of effective processes already put in place, we are moving ahead as a stronger institution with more transparent academic policies, procedures and safeguards.”

Click here to read the full statement.

An external review by former North Carolina governor, Jim Martin found abnormalities in classes in the AFAM department dating back to 1997. The UNC administration says procedures have been put in place to make sure problems like these don’t happen again.

Nyang’oro was the department’s first chairman and took the position in 1992. He held the position until August 2011 when internal investigations into the department began at which time he stepped down. He retired from teaching in June 2012 amid ongoing investigations.

Governor Martin’s review stated the issue was not athletic in nature as non-athletes had equal access to the benefits.

The Martin Report found that the academic fraud included in excess of 200 lecture classes that never met and more than 500 grade changes, averaging B+.

State Bureau of Investigations probes have identified both Nyang’oro and his department manager, Deborah Crowder, as the two mainly responsible for no-show classes.  Crowder retired from UNC in September 2009.

Five people were recently indicted by Secretary of State Elaine Marshal for breaking the Unified Athlete Agent Act. Former UNC tutor Jennifer Wiley Thompson was among those charged with athlete-agent inducement in connection with Georgia-based sports agent, Terry Watson. Watson was also indicted as he is accused of luring athletes to use him as an agent once they decided to go pro.

Chancellor Folt Catching Up On Post-AFAM Processes

CHAPEL HILL – UNC Chancellor Carol Folt says there are too many new processes that have been put in place since the AFAM scandal for her to be up to speed on the specifics of them in the five months she’s held the position. These comments were made in a WCHL News Special with Jim Heavner.

“They put in a lot of oversight—how many independent projects are being done by a single person, the way that’s followed through in the department, the way that then goes from the department up to the dean,” Chancellor Folt says. “So there’s many, many checks and balances in place that are observed on a term-by-term basis and reported on with metrics to follow.”

She says the deans are taking responsibility of the necessary processes and that she’s getting good reports of the oversight.

However, she says—while the steps that are being taken are good for the University—they weren’t necessary in every area.

“Sometimes one really distressing, bad set of happenings become the poster child for the way the institution is working, and of course that was not the case,” Chancellor Folt says. “In most cases, the processes were safe; in most cases, people were doing all the oversight and management you could ever possibly want.”

She says it’s not always the case that every department needs to change when something like this, but that even more oversight is necessary to find the outlier who is taking advantage.

You can hear the interview in its entirety on WCHL Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m.

For part four of the interview, click here.

NCAA Finished With AFAM Investigation

CHAPEL HILL – The NCAA tells North Carolina athletic officials that it isn’t considering additional charges connected to academic fraud in the university’s African studies department.

The school on Saturday released two emails from Sept. 26 after a records request.

The first is from UNC senior associate athletic director Vince Ille to NCAA associate director of enforcement Mike Zonder. Ille asked whether he correctly assumed the NCAA wasn’t planning additional investigation or charges of irregularities in the school’s African studies department. Zonder replied that “you are correct in your assessment.”

The NCAA sanctioned UNC for academic misconduct within its football program in March 2012.

The school said that August that the NCAA had reviewed irregularities including no-show classes and unauthorized grade changes in classes with significant athlete enrollments and found no rule violations.

Five Indictments Possibly Not The End

ORANGE COUNTY – Lately, all the focus has been on five indictments handed out on charges of breaking the Uniformed Athlete Agents Act (UAAA), but Orange and Chatham County District Attorney Jim Woodall says there are other ongoing investigations involving UNC.

“There is an ongoing investigation in the AFAM department,” Woodall says. “That’s been ongoing for a while.”

Former African and Afro-American Studies Department chair, Julius Nyang’oro was found to have conducted classes he didn’t actually teach. An external review of the department by former North Carolina Governor Jim Martin found that the problem dated back to 1997.

Woodall has not announced who he and the SBI have been investigating, but the question still lingers of whether Nyang’oro and other members of the AFAM department at UNC committed fraud by collecting paychecks from the University.

Wednesday, Georgia-based sports agent, Terry Watson had his first court appearance on 13 felony counts of breaking the UAAA with athlete-agent inducement and one court of obstruction of justice.

Last week, former UNC tutor, Jennifer Thompson appeared on four counts of athlete-agent inducement.

Woodall has said these five indictments are the first in the history of the UAAA that anyone can find. North Carolina adopted the law in 2003, and according to the NCAA website, as of 2010, 40 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands adhere to it. Three other states have non-UAAA laws in place to regulate agents.

Woodall says he can’t say for certain whether or not other states are likely to file similar charges.

“I think, because of what’s happened here, they’re certainly going to become more aware of this, and I think there are some states that know that we have information that we’d certainly share with them if they want to approach us about it,” Woodall says.

Wednesday the News and Observer published a story with the headline: ‘Orange DA adds staff to pursue sports agents…’

“That’s a very misleading headline,” Woodall says. “The DA’s office here has added no staff. I’m going to have a prosecutor who’s already been sworn in to work on this case; his name’s Mitch Gerrell—a longtime prosecutor from DurhamCounty. He’s going to be working on this case, but he’s not truly a member of my staff.”

Gerrell works for the North Carolina Conference of DAs as a special prosecutor to prosecute white-collar crimes. Woodall says his job is to assist DA offices in these types of cases and that’s just what he’ll be doing.

He says he’s also using the assistance of members of the Secretary of State’s office.

“There’s a statute that allows attorney’s from the Secretary of State’s office to be sworn in as assistant DAs to work on cases that the Secretary of State’s office has jurisdiction over,” Woodall says. “So, two of their attorneys are going to be sworn in as assistant district attorneys.”

He says while they will still be working for the Secretary of State’s office, they’ll work under the supervision of Woodall.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall began this investigation three years ago since the UAAA states agents in North Carolina have to register with Marshall’s office. Woodall wasn’t brought into the investigation until about a year and a half later.

Now the waiting games continues for the remaining three indictments, and Woodall says it could still be a little while until we know who else is being charged.

“We’re waiting for other people to be served,” Woodall says. “That can be by them turning themselves in or them being served wherever they happen to be. I really don’t have a specific timeline on that; I think it will be over the next couple of weeks.”

For more on the charges against Terry Watson, click here.

For more on the charges against Jennifer Thompson, click here.

Students, Alumni Not Taking Advantage Of Make-Up AFAM Classes

CHAPEL HILL – Just one student out of the 46 current students who took fraudulent courses in UNC’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies has registered for a free make-up course since the option was made available in May, the director of Communications for the College of Arts and Sciences, Dee Reid says.

The make-up courses are part of a plan the University is implementing to protect the integrity of the school; after a review of the department by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, known as the “Special Committee,” determined that the courses were fraudulent. These courses are collectively known as “Type 1” courses, according to a report released by the University.

The report says the university notified the 46 students who are affected by the review. Students received two letters in the mail notifying them that they would not receive credit for the courses.

In addition to the letters, each student’s school account was put on hold until he or she met with an adviser to discuss options to make-up the fraudulent course. UNC’s website says a hold on a student account prevents students from registering for future classes. Additionally, students cannot receive a diploma or a transcript while their account is on hold.

One letter explicitly stated to students that they would not receive credit for the “Type 1” courses. It said, “The University has discovered that [course name] was not conducted appropriately and therefore will require an additional course to supplement the requirements for a baccalaureate degree.”

The report says students may choose to enroll in another course to make-up the lost credit hours. The expenses for these courses will be paid in full with private funds from the university, including enrollment costs, textbooks, and other materials.

The report says students have two other options as well. They may take a challenge exam to test their knowledge of the material taught in the fraudulent course. If they pass, they will receive credit for the course, and do not have to take a make-up class.

They may also submit their coursework from the fraudulent class for review by a committee educated in the course material. If the coursework is considered ample for credit, the students do not have to take the make-up course.

Only one student at UNC has chosen to take a make-up course, Reid says. It is unclear how many of the effected students have chosen the other two options.

Out of 384 students enrolled in “Type 1” courses, 80 of them had not completed graduation requirements when the university submitted its report to the Special Committee on March 15, 2013.

Those 80 students were assigned to 2 categories:  “No Impact” and “Impact”.  Students in the “No Impact’ category did not receive credit for the course. If they did receive credit, they obtained the 120 required hours for graduation without the course, or completed their undergraduate degree at another university.

The 46 students mentioned before, were placed in the “Impact” category. They will have to make up the lost credit. This includes not only students majoring in African American Studies; but also students who took the class to fulfill general education requirements

According to the report, UNC has verified that the students who took a “Type 1” course and graduated in or after May 2012 had fulfilled more than 120 credits required for graduation, and did not need the “Type 1” course to obtain the degree.

According the report, the Special Committee found fraudulent courses dating back to 1997. Because university policy states that transcripts are “frozen” one year after students graduate, the diploma’s of students who graduated before 2012 are not in question.

The report says UNC will provide an option for alumni to retake a class at the expense of the university if they feel deprived of any academic experience as a result of the review.

The expenses for these courses will also be covered with private funds from UNC. Participants will not receive a grade, there will be no affect on the former students’ GPA or hours; but, their participation will be noted on their transcript, the report says.

There has only been one inquiry from a former UNC student about these courses, Reid Says.