UNC Chancellor Asks Auditors to Probe Academic Fraud

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp, under increasing pressure to dig deeper into an academic fraud scandal that has now drawn national attention, said he is bringing in a former governor and a national management consulting firm to look for "any additional academic irregularities that may have occurred."
by | August 17, 2012
 

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp, under increasing pressure to dig deeper into an academic fraud scandal that has now drawn national attention, said Thursday he is bringing in a former governor and a national management consulting firm to look for "any additional academic irregularities that may have occurred."

Thorp said Thursday that former Gov. Jim Martin, a Republican who led the state from 1985 to 1993, will work with Virchow, Krause & Co. to conduct an audit to try to find out whether the no-show classes and poorly supervised independent studies found earlier this year extend beyond the four-year period examined.

Martin and the firm will present their findings to a UNC Board of Governors panel that is reviewing the university's efforts to get at the academic fraud.

The announcement comes days after the case took a surprising turn when a transcript apparently belonging to one of UNC's most storied athletes, football star Julius Peppers, was found on a UNC server by rival N.C. State University fans. The grades on the transcript suggest that the no-show classes and suspect independent studies could go as far back as the late 1990s because Peppers, who also played basketball, fared well in those classes while struggling in many others.

For example, Peppers received a B-plus in a Southern Africa course in the spring 2000 semester that popped up six times as a no-show class in the university's internal review that covered the period of 2007 to 2011. He received a B in Contemporary Africa, a course that turned up seven times in the internal review.

"Obviously a lot of people are concerned that our review didn't go back far enough," Thorp said, "and we've come to the conclusion that we're not going to satisfy people's interest in that if we don't have an objective firm and an objective individual."

Thorp said he could not discuss whether the transcript belonged to Peppers, but he said the university is trying to figure out how "inappropriate records" ended up on a UNC server where the public could access them.

Help from outside

The university's previous review found 54 classes with little or no instruction and dozens of poorly monitored independent studies courses within the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. Athletes made up nearly two thirds of the enrollments in the 54 no-show classes.

University officials say two people are complicit in the fraud: Julius Nyang'oro, who was forced into retirement in July after nearly 20 years as department chairman, and Deborah Crowder, the former department manager who retired in 2009. Nyang'oro taught or supervised three of the courses in which Peppers received a grade of B or better.

Once the audit is completed, Thorp said, the firm will also review numerous reforms that have been put in place to make sure the academic fraud doesn't happen again. Thorp said at about that time, Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, will come to the campus to help assess the relationship between athletics and academics and find ways to improve it.

Thorp also announced a restructuring of the academic support unit for student athletes, including removing a line of authority between the unit and the athletic department. The unit would answer solely to the College of Arts & Sciences. A faculty report had questioned giving the athletic department a say in academic support matters.

'A big step'

Other changes include adding two positions in academic advising to monitor and oversee course enrollments for athletes. The faculty report found athletes were improperly turning to counselors in the academic support unit for that. The faculty report said evidence suggests the academic counselors had been steering athletes to the no-show classes.

"I'm totally devoted to this place and feel like we have to do whatever it takes to get us past this," Thorp said in an interview, "and I think that the things that we are announcing today will." Thorp has been criticized both on campus and by at least one member of the UNC Board of Governors, former state Supreme Court Justice Burley Mitchell, for failing to dig deeply into the details of the scandal.

UNC history professor Jay Smith has been outspoken about the need for a deeper investigation to protect the university's academic integrity. The university is considered one of the top five public universities in the nation, and the depth of the academic problems has stunned faculty and students alike. Smith praised Thorp's initiatives, particularly bringing in Rawlings to help the university develop a proper academic-athletic relationship.

"I see today's measures as a big step in the right direction," Smith said.

He also liked the selection of Martin, 76, a former chemistry professor at Davidson College who also served a term on the UNC Board of Governors, and that Thorp sees the need to see how far back in time the academic fraud extends.

The new initiatives are on top of numerous reforms the university has put in place and likely will coincide with two other probes under way. The SBI is investigating possible crimes related to the academic fraud, while the Board of Governors panel is reviewing the university's efforts to figure out what happened.

(c)2012 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

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