3 Key Findings in Chapel Hill’s Academic-Fraud Investigation

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Wednesday announced the findings of a long-awaited, independent investigation into academic fraud in its department of African and Afro-American studies. The comprehensive, 136-page report tells a gripping narrative full of new revelations in the prolonged scandal. The findings take aim at a number of people at Chapel Hill who have previously been implicated in the scandal but who have denied any knowledge of or role in the alleged fraud.

Here are the three most important takeaways from the report:

1. A department manager assigned papers, devised grades, and forged signatures. Deborah Crowder masterminded the phony “paper classes,” which masqueraded as lecture courses but never met, and required only that one paper be submitted. Ms. Crowder graded the papers, generally giving students A’s or B’s as long as the papers met the assigned length. Many of the papers were plagiarized but still received high grades. Ms. Crowder ran the system for more than 15 years.

Read a breakdown of who’s who in the scandal, as told by the report.

2. The athletics department was in on it. According to the report, more than one in five of the university’s athletes from 1999 to 2011—and upwards of 3,000 students in all—were enrolled in the paper classes. Many of the athletes were steered to the classes by members of the athletics department’s academic-support staff, who kept a running list of struggling athletes and the grades they needed to stay eligible to play. Advisers even suggested to Ms. Crowder the grades athletes should receive.

When Ms. Crowder announced she would retire, in 2009, the advisers panicked at the imminent threat to their athletes’ eligibility. The associate director of the athletics advising program wrote the following to a staff member: “Ms. Crowder is retiring at the end of July … if the guys papers are not in … I would expect D’s or C’s at best. Most need better than that … ALL WORK FROM THE AFAM DEPT. MUST BE DONE AND TURNED IN ON THE LAST DAY OF CLASS.”

Members of the counseling staff presented this PowerPoint slide to football coaches:

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 10.43.39 AM

After Ms. Crowder’s departure, the football team’s GPA fell to its lowest level in 10 years. But counselors did pressure the department’s chairman at the time, Julius Nyang’oro, to continue the fake classes. He complied.

3. Ms. Crowder was the architect, but the tent was much bigger. She was part of a “good old girls” network consisting of women like her across the campus who wanted to help students who were struggling with classes. Included in the network were two academic advisers not affiliated with the athletics department, who sent some students who were having personal problems that were interfering with their studies to Ms. Crowder’s fake courses.

Among the host of people who had some knowledge of the classes’ existence were football players’ academic advisers, a counselor to basketball players (and a member of Coach Roy Williams’s inner circle), other professors in the department, the former football coach Butch Davis, other members of the football staff, and an academic dean. Even advisers for the college’s prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship steered students toward the classes, though it’s unclear the extent to which they knew the courses were fraudulent.

One of the most notable cases may be that of Jan M. Boxill, a philosophy professor and director of the Parr Center for Ethics. She was also an academic counselor to women’s basketball players who sent students to Ms. Crowder and suggested the grades they should receive. Ms. Boxill went on to serve as chair of the faculty for three years.

For more coverage of the report, read this Chronicle article.

Correction (10/22/2014, 8:46 p.m.): This post originally misstated how many people had taken the paper classes, according to the report. It was more than 3,000 students, not more than 3,000 athletes. The post has been updated to reflect this correction.

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