North Carolina's NCAA gift that keeps on giving
Posted May 8, 2012
Updated May 9, 2012
A 10-page report issued on Friday by The University of North Carolina revealed unauthorized grades, forged signatures and other irregularities. The nine-month internal investigation centers on Julius Nyang’oro, who had held the position of department chair in the African and Afro-American Studies program. According to the report, Nyang'oro oversaw independent study classes with minimal professor-student interaction and grades for 59 students in nine courses between 2007-09 were submitted with forged signatures of professors. Those same professors said they never taught the courses and during the period faculty members revealed unauthorized grade changes.
It's a gift from the NCAA investigation that keeps on giving. The university started the internal probe following a News & Observer report concerning the academic transcript Marvin Austin. According to the News & Observer, football and basketball players accounted for 39 percent of the enrollments in 54 classes.
While a sports-related scandal exposed possible fraud within the African and Afro-American Studies department, the issue goes well beyond athletics. It eats at the core of what a university is all about. North Carolina prides itself in national academic recognition. That's why public comments from Chancellor Holden Thorp and UNC system president Tom Ross are rather curious. They appear more interested in damage control.
In July 2011, when Michael McAdoo's plagiarized paper had gone viral, Thorp wanted the focus to be on the honor court's handling of the situation, rather than asking out loud why nobody bothered to read the paper in the first place. In an interview with the N&O, Thorp said he was not going to dig into Nyang'oro's handling of the paper. "It's very unfortunate what happened here, but I don't get into grading for faculty members," he said.
In a statement on Monday, Ross wasn't interested in digging deeper either. “I believe that this was an isolated situation and that the campus has taken appropriate steps to correct problems and put additional safeguards in place,” he said.
Ross believes the case of Nyang'oro is isolated, but how does he know that? Wouldn't it behoove the president of the entire university system to make sure everything at a flagship institution is kosher? At the very least that seems like a reasonable request.
Again, the academic scandal at North Carolina goes beyond sports. While the 39 percent statistic generates a good headline, it also means the majority of those benefiting from Nyang'oro's alleged Indiana Jones-style adventures were from the general population. That's a bigger problem, and ironic, considering the real black eye for the university comes from the same domain that spent the last year wringing their hands and openly debating the merits of big-time college athletics.
But it's easier to fire a football coach, send out a few disassociation letters and hope the next coach wins without any scandal. Handling a tenured professor that has a history dating all the way back to the early 90s is a slightly more complicated matter and a rabbit hole nobody appears interested in exploring.
That's not to say North Carolina is unique. It's just something to think about next time big, bad college sports is shouldered with all the blame.