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Emails: UNC Professor, Academic Advisor Had 'Cozy' Relationship

7:02 PM, Jun 11, 2013   |    comments
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Paul Myerberg, USA TODAY Sports

Newly released emails reveal the informal and cozy relationship between North Carolina's academic support staff in the athletics department and the former head of the university's African studies department, undercutting claims made by UNC's outgoing chancellor, Holden Thorp, and other school officials that staff members never worked with the department to create classes designed to maintain eligibility for student-athletes.

The emails, obtained by The News & Observer of Raleigh, NC, show members of UNC's Academic Support Program for Student Athletes offering Julius Nyang'oro, then chairman of the African studies department, tickets to games and negotiating to create a "no-show" class - a lecture-style class turned into independent studies.

In one email exchange, a support staff member told Nyang'oro he would be "guest coaching" for a UNC home football game, meaning he would stand along the sidelinewith the team.

In another, Cynthia Reynolds, who oversaw academic support for UNC football players, said to Nyang'oro that "I hear you are doing me a big favor this semester and that I should be bringing you lots of gifts and cash???????" Reynolds also offered to meet with Nyang'oro over a "phone call, meeting or drinks, whichever you prefer" to discuss student assignments in AFAM 396, one of the independent study classes in Nyang'oro's department.

A third email showed how a tutor submitted to Debbie Crowder, the department manager, very detailed outlines of the 10-page papers students would have to write for two classes in 2005; both classes included a high number of student-athletes. According to The News & Observer, UNC records show 15 students enrolled in AFAM 396; 11 of the 15 were athletes.

"This is additional confirmation that there was far too cozy a relationship between the academic advisers in the athletic department and Nyang'oro and Crowder," Peter Hans, chairman of the UNC Board of Governors, told The News & Observer.

The emails show details not contained in the university's 2012 investigation into the allegations of academic fraud, which came to the conclusion that student-athletes did not solely benefit from grading anomalies because non-athletes also received high grades.

"This was not an athletic scandal," former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin, who led the probe, told UNC's board of trustees. "It was an academic scandal, which is worse."

Wrote Martin in his report: "Despite what one might imagine, there is no evidence the Counselors, or the students, or the coaches had anything to do with perpetrating this abuse of the (African, African American, and Diaspora Studies) curriculum, or any other."

The investigation into allegations of academic fraud has roots in a plagiarized paper released in 2011 by a former UNC football player who sued the university to regain his place on the football team. The paper, written for a Swahili language class, listed Nyang'oro as the professor.

This led to UNC's probe, steered by Martin, which identified 560 grade changes made without proper approval and pinned all of the blame on Nyang'oro and Crowder. The school's investigation drew skepticism from UNC's own Board of Governors, one of whom, former state Supreme Court Justice Burley Mitchell, called the academic issues "an athletic problem to the extreme."

Nyang'oro was forced to retire last July. Thorpe, UNC's chancellor since 2008, announced his resignation last September and will become provost at Washington University in St. Louis on July 1.

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