3 Questions Left Unanswered by Chapel Hill’s Academic-Fraud Report

After the latest report of academic fraud at the University of North Carolina flagship was released on Wednesday, administrators said that, disturbing as the findings were, the campus’s four-year nightmare might finally end.

“I believe we now know all that we are able to know about what happened and how it happened,” said the system’s president, Thomas W. Ross, according to an account in The Daily Tar Heel.

But the 136-page report, the result of an investigation led by a former federal prosecutor, Kenneth L. Wainstein, raises still more questions about how more than 3,000 students were able to participate in an 18-year academic scandal at one of the nation’s premier public universities. Here are three of the most important:

1. Why are the most damning revelations coming out only now?

The university sponsored two large-scale reviews before the latest report but failed to identify the most shocking revelations: for instance, that the athletic department was complicit in the fake classes populated by athletes.

The Wainstein investigation was the first to have the cooperation of the two most culpable individuals: Julius Nyang’oro, the former department chair of African and Afro-American studies, and Deborah Crowder, the former manager of that department and the mastermind of the phony classes. But none of the most prominent findings relied on their testimony alone.

For instance, the fact that counselors to football players were steering athletes toward Ms. Crowder’s classes was thoroughly documented in emails. Or that Jan Boxill, a philosophy professor who later became chair of the faculty, also steered women’s basketball players to the classes and suggested grades they should receive, as apparently demonstrated in this email:

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 10.50.14 AM


Presumably, the university has access to the emails and has had years to look through them. But Carol L. Folt, the university’s chancellor, said there were concerns Ms. Crowder may have deleted emails, according to tweets from Andrew Carter, a reporter at the News & Observer, in Raleigh:

It’s hard to imagine that the emails wouldn’t have been archived or otherwise saved for recollection, given that they are public record. Surely, university employees can’t make their emails evaporate simply by deleting them, right?

2. Did administrators turn a blind eye?

The report faults Chapel Hill administrators for failing to respond to red flags popping up around the department. Whether top administrators knew enough not to go looking for answers is one of the intriguing questions left open for interpretation.

Take Holden Thorp, UNC’s former chancellor, who resigned in 2012 and is now provost at Washington University in St. Louis. The report states that Mr. Nyang’oro believed the phony classes had Mr. Thorp’s approval, based on a conversation the two had when Mr. Thorp was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Mr. Nyang’oro said Mr. Thorp had told him he appreciated how the department dealt with its high enrollment of athletes. Mr. Thorp told investigators that he didn’t remember those remarks, but that he would have meant only to recognize the difficulty of teaching students with such challenging schedules. By that interpretation, it seems Mr. Thorp—like the basketball coach Roy Williams—was aware of athletes’ clustering in the department. (Mr. Thorp has said he is not commenting on the Wainstein report.)

But there was more noise at lower administrative levels. Bobbi Owen, a former senior associate dean of undergraduate education, heard reports of unauthorized grade changes, questionable signatures, and an abnormally high number of independent-study courses’ being offered by the department. She approached Mr. Nyang’oro, the report says, and told him to “rein” Ms. Crowder in, but didn’t alert anyone higher up to her concerns.

3. What will the NCAA do?

The NCAA began investigating UNC in 2010 and eventually handed down a one-year postseason ban, among other punishments. It reopened its investigation into the institution earlier this year. The findings of the Wainstein report, because they suggest many more people knew about the fraud, may qualify for the association’s dreaded “lack of institutional control” charge, which typically carries the most draconian penalties.

The NCAA and UNC released a joint statement about the Wainstein report:

Return to Top