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A two-year-old clue into no-show classes at UNC-Chapel Hill?

UNC-Chapel Hill officials and others looking into the academic fraud at the university might want to take notice of a comment posted on a course evaluation website that students use to pick classes.

In April 2010, an anonymous student wrote this regarding Julius Nyang'oro's AFRI 370 class:

"I am taking the course by submitting a paper with Prof. Nyang'oro and it is a bit daunting. It has to be between 20-25 pages. I wish I was able to take the actual course with him."

The details match up with the university's investigation covering the period of 2007 to 2011 that found 54 no-show classes mostly offered by Nyang'oro, the longtime department chairman forced into retirement last month. The classes had little or no instruction, and Nyang'oro told students to write a paper to hand in at the end of the semester.

AFRI 370, known as Policy Problems in African Studies, does not turn up on that list. But other university records show that Nyang'oro was listed as teaching it in the spring 2010 semester. It is described as a course with "(l)ectures, readings, and research projects on one problem each semester concerning policy formation by African leaders or on United States–Africa policy issues."

Mike Rihani, a co-founder of Koofers, said there's no way a student could back date a comment, so it looks like this might have been the first apparent clue of a problem. But there was no grade information associated with that particular class on Koofers' site, something that tends to happen, Rihani said, when only a handful of students take a class.

We found the comment because we have been looking at Koofers and a similar website, MyEdu.com, to see if we can find grade data for the 54 no-show classes. We found 17 such courses between the two sites, held in the semesters UNC-CH had reported, and in all but three we found no grades lower than a B-minus.

The other three classes listed nothing lower than a C-minus, and in percentages no greater than 14 percent. Thirteen classes showed the percentage of students receiving A-minus or better was 64 percent or higher.

There are caveats to this information because we don't know if the data on each course reflects one class section or more, and Koofers does not report how many students were in each course. But the data tends to support suspicions that those who enrolled in these classes -- and that's predominately athletes -- had gotten good grades for doing the assigned work.

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