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UNC faculty and athletes

One of the most interesting lines in the report of the special UNC faculty panel that looked into academic fraud was in the section entitled: A Campus with Two Cultures.

"....some faculty are reportedly openly disapproving of having any student-athletes enroll in their courses."

The report doesn't elaborate on that sentence. But you can speculate where those "openly disapproving" faculty members are coming from, given what we have learned about cases of academic fraud involving, primarily, football players at UNC-CH.  If, on the first day of class, a faculty members looks out at the students sitting in the room and sees a bunch of extremely large men squeezing into the seats, what is the professor to think?

a. Great. Somehow my class has gotten on the unofficial list of gut courses circulating in athletic circles. So much for my reputation.

b. Great.  I give lots of homework and quizzes, and take off points for missing classes and late assigments. I don't know who put these guys in my class, but  I'm going to be the guy who, halfway through the semester, will be in the dean's office explaining to some offensive line coach why his starters are failing.

I taught at Maryland in the journalism school, in the mid-'90s. My course was an introduction to news writing, and there were - as you might imagine - non-stop writing assignments. If you couldn't write clearly and quickly, or if you had spelling or grammar issues, you were toast in this class. Attendance was mandatory and there were constant quizzes. In four semesters of teaching nearly 150 students, I had exactly one athlete take the course - a member of the woman's lacrosse team. I knew this because instructors had to fill out progress reports for any athlete in a class and send the form to the athletic department.

Was Nyang'oro in Africa during last summer's no-show class at UNC?

The first clue of no-show classes at UNC-Chapel Hill came when rival N.C. State fans in early July 2011 found plagiarism in a Swahili paper by a former football player. The paper listed Julius Nyang'oro as the professor.

We thought it was newsworthy, and sought to find Nyang'oro for a story we published on the Swahili paper on July 17. We contacted his office and the department, and ultimately, we got this emailed comment from Kim Weaver Spurr, who is a spokeswoman for the College of Arts and Sciences:

"He is traveling in Africa right now. His unc email account is the best way to reach him while he is traveling."

The date of the email is July 14.

Fast forward to May and June of this year. UNC officials announce academic fraud in 54 classes, and say they can't verify that dozens of other independent studies were conducted with academic rigor. One of those no-show classes was AFAM 280, which Nyang'oro sought to place on the academic calendar two days before the 2011 summer session began. It was almost immediately filled with 18 football players and a former player.

According to UNC-CH's academic calendar, that session was supposed to have been held from June 16 through July 19, last year, with exams scheduled July 21-22.

The upshot is if Spurr's email is correct -- and according to an earlier email, it was information she had double checked -- that means Nyang'oro was in Africa for at least some chunk of the summer session in which he was supposed to be teaching a class.

These sessions, by the way, compress a typical three-and-a-half-month semester into little more than a month. So not being around for even a small part of it creates a larger problem.

We pointed out Spurr's email and the summer class schedule to UNC officials two days ago. We have also previously asked whether Nyang'oro was in Africa at the time of this class. When we get clarification from UNC officials -- or from law enforcement officials who are investigating -- we will let you know.

Daily Tar Heel staffer among students in UNC no-show class

The Daily Tar Heel has a scoop today on the UNC-Chapel Hill academic fraud case  -- the first published interview with a student who took one of the no-show classes.

It turns out one of the student paper's staffers had taken AFAM 428, Bioethics in Afro-American Studies -- in the summer of 2009. The staffer, Nate Harrison, a nonathlete, tells the DTH that a friend characterized it as an easy class and a grade-point-average booster. Harrison also said the class had been described to him as an independent study.

Harrison told the DTH the class never met, and at the end of the session, he emailed professor Julius Nyang'oro a 20-page paper. Nyang'oro was the longtime chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies department until he stepped down as the scandal began to surface. He has since been forced into retirement.

"I never once saw Nyang'oro," Harrison told the DTH.

A university review found 54 classes within the African and Afro-American Studies department over a four-year period that had little or no instruction. Nyang'oro either taught or graded at least 45 of them. The State Bureau of Investigation is now conducting a criminal probe.

Here is the breakdown of athletes, former athletes and nonathletes in the UNC academic fraud case

As our Sunday story reported, we now have the data from UNC-Chapel Hill regarding how many former athletes were among the students enrolled in the 54 suspect classes in the academic fraud case. The former athletes bring the total percentage of athlete enrollments in the classes to 64 percent, or nearly two of every three seats.

You can find the data at the end of this post.

There is one element missing in this data that the university had provided in the past and that's a breakdown of how many football and men's basketball players are among the former athletes. University officials said they could not make that information public because the numbers may be small enough -- say, one former basketball player in a particular class -- that it might identify that person.

The university is citing a federal law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which often is described as FERPA, for denying the information. You can read about FERPA here.

One of the more interesting findings in our story is that athletes, including former athletes, on average took more suspect classes than nonathletes. The ratio was roughly 2 classes per athlete, and one per non-athlete.

After seeing that, I took another look at former UNC-CH football player Marvin Austin's partial transcript. We had reported the B-plus he received in one suspect class, but the transcript shows he was also signed up for another: AFRI 520 -- Southern Africa, in the first summer semester of 2009. The transcript does not show a grade, possibly because he had not taken the class yet.

That class had six enrollments. Of those, five were football players, the other a nonathlete.

1341864172 Here is the breakdown of athletes, former athletes and nonathletes in the UNC academic fraud case The News and Observer Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

An interesting take on UNC b-ball graduations from the Indianapolis Star

An Indianapolis Star report two years ago on basketball team graduation rates is catching attention today in light of  the academic fraud case at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The report notes that seven of the players on UNC-Chapel Hill's 2005 championship team who had graduated by the time the story was published all received the same degree -- a bachelor of arts in African and Afro-American Studies.

The Star interviewed Sean May, who was the center for the team, and his comments have a particular resonance today, with the university now acknowledging a major academic fraud case in that department involving classes with little or no instruction. Many of these classes have high enrollments of athletes in the two big money sports -- basketball and football.

According to the Star: 'May said he started as a double major with communications, but dropped it so he could graduate faster after leaving for the NBA.Afro-American and African studies, May said, offered "more independent electives, independent study. I could take a lot of classes during the season. Communications, I had to be there in the actual classroom. We just made sure all the classes I had to take, I could take during the summer."'

May left the school for the NBA following the 2005 championship, but collected his degree four years later. It's unclear what classes he took or who taught them. The academic fraud centers on the former chairman, Julius Nyang'oro, who is being allowed to retire effective July 1.

The Star's report said the high number of African studies graduates on the basketball team raises issues of "clustering," in which athletes are steered to a particular course of instruction because it's easier to accomplish. But John Blanchard, UNC-CH's senior associate athletics director in charge of student-athletes services, told the Star that wasn't the case.

"The question is whether they are getting a good education," he said, "and the answer is a resounding yes."

May is one of more than a dozen prominent athletes listed as Facebook friends with Deborah Crowder, the former administrative assistant for the department who has declined to be interviewed by university officials investigating the academic fraud.

The Star's report can be found here.

Here's a timeline of events in the UNC academic fraud case

July 1: Football player Michael McAdoo files a lawsuit against UNC-CH and the NCAA after being kicked off the team because a tutor had provided footnotes and a bibliography for a term paper. The paper turns out to have several plagiarized passages that were missed by university officials and NCAA investigators. The paper identifies Julius Nyang’oro, chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies Department, as class professor. Chancellor Holden Thorp in a subsequent interview tells The News & Observer he is not going to question Nyang’oro about the paper.

Aug. 21: A partial academic transcript for another football player, Marvin Austin, shows he took an upper level African studies class in the summer of 2007 before taking a full slate of introductory courses in the fall that included remedial writing. Austin received a B-plus in the African studies class. UNC-CH records identified Nyang’oro as the professor.

Sept. 1: Nyang’oro resigns as chairman. University officials launch an investigation into “possible irregularities” in the African studies department after The N&O requests data on independent studies and other courses in which no class is held.

Sept. 16: UNC-CH officials confirm the investigation is targeting independent studies in the department. Data released to The N&O shows that football players are accounting for more than one in five of the enrollments in those classes.

May 4: UNC-CH’s investigation finds 54 classes in the department in which there is little or no evidence of instruction. Among them are the classes McAdoo and Austin took. Nyang’oro is directly connected to 45 of the classes. The report also finds evidence of forgery and unauthorized grade changes, but law enforcement officials decline to investigate, saying there is an apparent lack of financial motive. Data later released to The N&O shows 36 percent of the enrollments are football players and another three percent are basketball players. Nyang'oro is allowed to retire.

May 10: Records requested by The N&O show Nyang’oro received $12,000 in additional pay to teach a summer class in 2011 that the internal probe found to have no classroom instruction.

May 14: Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall announces a criminal investigation in light of the summer pay, but said the probe would also look into forgery and other allegations related to the case.
 
June 8: New information released to the N&O shows the summer class under criminal investigation had been created just days before the start of the semester, and quickly  filled with football players. Of 19 enrollments, 18 were current players on the team and the other a former player. The information also showed that academic advisers for the players knew the course did not meet, but still helped them enroll in it. The university says it is seeking the return of the $12,000 Nyang'oro received.

UNC football, basketball players accounted for 39 percent of enrollments in suspect classes

Football and basketball players accounted for nearly four of every 10 students enrolled in 54 classes at the heart of an academic fraud investigation at UNC-Chapel Hill, according to figures released Monday.

The classes were all within UNC’s Department of African and Afro-American studies. An internal probe released Friday produced evidence of unauthorized grade changes and little or no instruction by professors. Forty-five of the classes listed the department’s chairman, Julius Nyang’oro, as the professor. Investigators could not determine instructors for the remaining nine.

University officials say they found no evidence that the suspect classes were part of a plan between Nyang’oro and the athletic department to create classes that student-athletes could pass so they could maintain their eligibility. They said student-athletes were treated no differently in the classes than students who were not athletes.

But the high percentages of student-athletes in the classes suggest to some that academic advisers, tutors and others in the athletic department may have guided them to the classes.

Click here for a link to the full story, and here for Friday's story, which includes links to the internal reports.

1336490165 UNC football, basketball players accounted for 39 percent of enrollments in suspect classes The News and Observer Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Did your student really write that paper?

If you teach at a university, this will the most frightening thing you read today.

Written under a pseudonym for the Chronicle of Higher Education, this is an essay by a professional writer who gets paid to help college students cheat.

He writes term papers on pretty much any subject you can imagine.

In this essay, he tells of the astonishingly vapid and intellectually challenged college students he routinely connects with - students who are desperate - and yet can't actually spell "desperate."

One telling graf.

For those of you who have ever mentored a student through the writing of a dissertation, served on a thesis-review committee, or guided a graduate student through a formal research process, I have a question: Do you ever wonder how a student who struggles to formulate complete sentences in conversation manages to produce marginally competent research? How does that student get by you?

This essay is causing some heads to turn across higher education today. The online comment section is a particularly lively community.

Here's the story.

 

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