UNC just released a report on the academic scandal that has plagued its African and Afro-American Studies department since former UNC learning specialist Mary Willingham blew the whistle on the department’s sham classes. The report found that, during an 18 year period, more than 3,100 students enrolled in the department’s “paper classes” and nearly half of those students were student athletes, many of whom were from the “revenue sports” of football or men’s basketball.
The report was commissioned by UNC and was conducted over an eight month period by Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor and FBI counsel who now works in private practice. The report substantiated many of Ms. Willingham’s claims, describing how the department’s administrator, Deborah Crowder, and former chairman, Julius Nyang’oro, created “paper classes” that allowed a student to write a paper rather than attend lectures or meet with a professor. The papers were graded by Crowder – who was not a professor – and who typically handed out A or B grades for papers 10 pages or less.
The report said academic advisors would “identify student-athletes who needed extra help to maintain their eligibility, steer those student-athletes toward the paper classes and then work closely with Crowder to register them.” Advisors would send Ms. Crowder lists of players to be enrolled in paper classes each term, and in some cases the advisor “indicated for the grade or grade range the player would need to earn in the class to maintain eligibility.”
Wainstein did not directly implicate coaches or athletic administrators in the scheme, but he did find that a general lack of oversight at the university allowed academic advisors to push the sham classes on students. He indicated that proper oversight of the department was missing apparently because there was a belief within the school that this type of fraud could not happen.
The scandal is not yet behind UNC. The NCAA reopened its investigation in June and is still looking into the fraud. In the meantime, Ms. Willingham said she believes the culture at UNC is finally changing for the better, so she is turning her focus to other schools across the country. She created a new project called Literacy Before Legacy, saying she would “like people to join me in the call to help young athletes, sixth-graders, fifth-graders with their reading skills so they will be prepared for a real education by the time they get to college.”
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