North Carolina professor accepted favors from academic support staff

Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Julius Nyang’oro took football tickets, sideline passes and other favors from counselors in exchange for help with independent studies scheduling, according to emails.

The chairman of North Carolina's African studies department accepted football tickets, sideline passes and other favors from counselors in the school's Academic Support Program for Student Athletes, according to emails obtained by the Raleigh News & Observer. Julius Nyang'oro, the professor in question, then negotiated with those same counselors to provide non-lecture or independent studies classes not originally scheduled:

Members of the academic support staff offered Nyang'oro football tickets and the chance to watch a game from the sidelines. One counselor offered to discuss athletes' coursework over drinks, and another negotiated with Nyang'oro to schedule a no-show class.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp and other officials have said the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes did not collaborate with Nyang'oro or his department manager, Debbie Crowder, to create the classes to help keep athletes eligible to play sports.

The university, in its own investigation and in a probe helmed by former Gov. Jim Martin, had concluded the fraud was not intended to benefit athletes because nonathletes were also enrolled and received the same high grades. They have pinned the blame solely on Nyang'oro and Crowder.

The emails show that Jamie Lee, an academic support counselor, requested that Nyang'oro schedule a "research paper course" in place of a lecture course. Nyang'oro put a research paper course on the summer schedule, as requested. Lee, upon receiving the news, responded with a happy face emoticon. That class, Seminar in Afro-American Studies, included only two students. The News & Observer reports that at least one was an athlete.

Emails from Crowder, the manager of the African studies department, showed that she was concerned by the number of students enrolled in the department's independent studies courses as far back as 2005. She wrote that the classes "had sort of gotten into the frat circuit."

Nyang'oro and Crowder have been at the center of the academic scandal at North Carolina since 2010. Investigators found that academic advisors steered athletes toward no-show classes in the African studies department, then prepared intricate research paper outlines for athletes to use. Evidence of plagiarism surfaced in 2011, as part of a civil suit against the university by a former Tar Heels football player. The assistance provided by tutors, and the relationship between the tutors and Nyang'oro, raised questions from the interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences as far back as 2006 (via the News & Observer):

Madeline Levine, a former interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences in 2006, said she was appalled to see how much work the tutor had done for the athletes in those classes. She said such assistance would not be performed by tutors and other academic support staff in the programs that serve regular students.

"It looks really corrupt, academically corrupt, to me," said Levine, who is now retired.

She was also troubled by the email banter between Nyang'oro and the athletes' academic counselors. She said while some of it might have been in jest, it suggested a relationship in which Nyang'oro was doing favors for the counselors.

In one email from September 2009, Cynthia Reynolds, a former associate director who oversaw academic support for football players, told Nyang'oro in an email that "I hear you are doing me a big favor this semester and that I should be bringing you lots of gifts and cash???????"

Nyang'oro and Crowder have since retired. Suzanne Dirr, the counselor who had drawn up many of the outlines used by athletes, died in 2008. Holden Thorp, the school's chancellor, is stepping down on June 30 to become provost at Washington University in St. Louis. Thorp has said he is done with Division I college athletics and that the athletics department has become the most important job of a university president.

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