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.”


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.


UNC President Asks To Review Nyang’oro Emails

CHAPEL HILL – After e-mails surfaced that purported to show a relationship between the UNC athletic department and department heads who created fake classes for student athletes, UNC President Tom Ross said he does not know if this is a new development that requires further investigation until he reads the e-mails personally.

“We’ll be looking at that and I’ll be talking with the chairman about that and we’ll determine if there’s any further action,” President Ross said. “But at this point, there really hasn’t been any discussion of any next steps.”

President Ross asked to see the e-mails between members of the athlete tutoring program and Julius Nyang’oro, former chair of the African Studies Department at UNC. The News & Observer reported that Nyang’oro created classes that students did not have to attend to boost their grades.

President Ross says he also wants to see the timeline of the investigation.

“There was some lapse of time between the requests and I wanted to understand why that happened,” President Ross said.

President Ross repeatedly said after last week’s Board of Governor’s meeting that he has not yet read the e-mails, nor has he talked with UNC to get information from the university itself.


Can UNC Maintain New Policies Post AFAM?

CHAPEL HILL – UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp says if it was possible to narrow the investigation into the African and Afro-American Studies department down simply in regards to academics and athletics, it would center around two figures connected to the department’s administrative assistant, Debbie Crowder.

***Listen to Part V of the Interview***

“In terms of the athletics part, I think there’s been all this discussion about whether it was an athletics thing or it wasn’t an athletics thing,” Chancellor Thorp says. “Of course the athletes knew about this, and we have been transparent about the fact that Debbie Crowder is the long-time partner of Warren Martin. It was in the Martin Report—and in my opinion, maybe not acknowledged to the extent that it should have been—that Burgess McSwain, the long-time basketball tutor, was a close, close friend of Debbie Crowder. So, that provided the access to what was going on.”

The aftermath of the multiple investigations into the AFAM department—both internal and external—have left the University with a myriad of policies to try and make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again. However, Chancellor Thorp says he hopes it’s not too much.

“The only thing that worries me about the changes in oversight is whether its overkill and whether we’ll be able to sustain it,” Chancellor Thorp says. “So I think there’s no question that we’ve got lots of policies in place to catch this kind of thing. But I think more importantly in terms of the culture…is recognizing that this place isn’t perfect and things can happen here. This happened for 14 years, and lots of great, great people who served this university well were administrators during that time, and none of us caught this.”

These comments were made in a WCHL News Special end-of-term interview with Jim Heavner. The interview will be played in its entirety Saturday and Sunday.

To read about and hear part four, click here.