Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tarnished Heels -- Chapter Five

Chapter Five
Marvin Austin’s transcript; Julius Nyang’oro; Carl Carey

            The academic scandal at UNC might eventually be reflected upon as phases that unfolded little by little.  The plagiarism exhibited by Michael McAdoo was essentially phase one, as it showed the lack of institutional oversight with regards to the work being submitted by student athletes.  It also introduced Julius Nyang’oro, the chairman of the Department of African and Afro-American Students (AFAM), where he also served as a professor.  It was Nyang’oro who assigned (and presumably graded) McAdoo’s paper.
            Phase two began to unravel on August 21, 2011.  It was on that date that the Raleigh News and Observer ran a front-page story about an academic transcript it had obtained for former UNC star Marvin Austin, who had been near the center of the school’s agent-related NCAA violations.  The details showed anomalies beginning with Austin’s very first classes at the university, and were dissected by noted investigative reporter Dan Kane.
            In a summer 2007 session at UNC, just prior to his first full semester as a freshman, Austin took a 400-level class in AFAM.  This was during the same time span when daily football workouts were being held, yet Austin managed to receive a B-plus in the course.  The instructor was Julius Nyang’oro.  To further muddy the situation, Austin had been allowed to enroll in the course (and apparently excel in it) despite having a score on the written portion of the SAT that was deemed low enough that he needed to take a remedial writing class.  Austin did not take that writing class, however, until the immediately subsequent fall semester – after he had received the B-plus in a 400-level course.
            According to Kane’s article, Julia Nichols, the student services manager for UNC’s Academic Advising Program, said it is unusual for a freshman to begin his or her college education with a 400 level course.  There were exceptions, though, but they were reserved for incoming students who had “demonstrated an aptitude, either through advanced placement classes or other experience,” and who petition the professor to be allowed to take the course.  Based on Austin’s reported SAT scores, the quoted levels of aptitude certainly did not appear to match up well with his personal academic parameters.  Nichols concluded by saying, “As a general, blanketed rule, freshmen are not normally allowed to take 400 or 500 level classes.”
            Another UNC spokesman, Mike McFarland, said the course Austin took did not require a prerequisite and was therefore open to all students.  But he confirmed that students could not just sign up for the course via open registration.  They had to first get permission from the African Studies department, which was led by Nyang’oro at the time.  McFarland also said that a 400 level course also often suggested it had a level of sophistication that would pose a challenge to a newly arrived freshman.  UNC officials could not produce a syllabus outlining the course requirements for the 2007 class.  A description of the class, “Bioethics in Afro-American Studies,” was provided on the unaffiliated website CourseRank.com.  It described it as a course that would “examine the process involved in resolving moral dilemmas pertaining to people of the African Diaspora.”  Yet Austin, a sub-standard student based on SAT scores, not only was placed in a course normally reserved for upperclassmen, but also received a grade of a B-plus.
            Jon Ericson, a retired Drake University provost who started an organization called The Drake Group that advocates reforming college sports, was also quoted in the News and Observer article.  “You don’t start at the senior level seminar and then work your way down to remedial writing,” Ericson said.  He said that Austin’s transcript suggested that Austin was assigned to a class that was intended to provide him a good grade to maintain his eligibility on the football field.  Ericson said he advocates releasing the grades for athletes in high-dollar programs, but not their names.  The grades would help show which departments and classes were serving to protect student athletes’ eligibility, and, hopefully, he said, prompt faculty to speak out against the erosion of academic standards.  That last point would be especially pertinent to UNC’s situation, as throughout the scandal the vast majority of its faculty chose to remain mute on the subject – even while more and more evidence of orchestrated cheating was strongly suggested through data and records.
A 2.0 grade point average (GPA), or a C average, was required at the time to remain in good academic standing at UNC, according to its handbook.  In total, Austin was carrying a 2.21 GPA after more than three semesters and three summer classes.  The transcript showed that Austin received grades of C-minus or lower in seven of 17 classes and labs, including one F and three D’s.  None of those four “lowest” grades were in the AFAM department.  It was just the opposite; Austin had taken three classes within the African Studies department by the end of his second year, earning the grades of the aforementioned B-plus along with two B-minuses – grades that mathematically helped to balance the lower grades he received in numerous non-AFAM courses.
            More revealing data was included in Kane’s article regarding the AFAM department and Nyang’oro in particular.  MyEdu.com was a website that received grading data from UNC.  It reported that a majority of students taking the “Bioethics” class over the previous five years scored an A-minus or better.  It also showed that no students had received less than a B-minus during that same timeframe.  A month earlier Chancellor Holden Thorp had commented on the AFAM department, marking it as an important one for the university.  He also went on to refer to Julius Nyang’oro as “a great colleague.”  Prior to being named chancellor of the university, Thorp had held the position of Dean of the College of Arts and Science – a position that coincidentally oversaw both the AFAM department and its head, Julius Nyang’oro.
            Information held within Nyang’oro’s curriculum vitae indicated that he first worked at the University of North Carolina in 1984 as a visiting assistant professor in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies.  He was a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the department from 1985-1987, and in the fall of 1989 was an instructor/coordinator for UNITAS, a multi-cultural living and academic program at UNC.  In 1989 and 1990 he was the executive director of UNC’s Institute for the Comparative Study of African and Afro-America, which was later renamed the Institute for African American Research.  From 1990 to 1992 he was an assistant professor in AFAM, and then from 1992 to 1995 was an associate professor.  In 1995 he was given the title of “present professor” in the AFAM department, as well as adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science.  He was named the chairperson of the AFAM department in 1992, a position he would hold until shortly after the release of not only Austin’s transcript, but also other suspiciously correlating information that soon followed. 
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            Less than a week later another article by Dan Kane and the News and Observer would appear revealing details that would further damage the image of Nyang’oro, his department, and his university superiors.  The August 27, 2011, article showed that during the same time the school’s football program was still dealing with issues that had been uncovered regarding sports agents with connections to both coaches and players, Nyang’oro had hired another agent to actually teach a summer class on the school’s campus.
            The agent was Carl Carey, Jr., whose top client was former UNC football and basketball star Julius Peppers.  Furthermore, at the time of the summer class Carey was representing two other UNC football players who had been selected in the NFL draft held only months earlier.  Even more damning was the fact that while he was teaching the class, he was also trying to retain one of those players – Robert Quinn – whose business manager was questioning Carey’s ability to represent Quinn.  Quinn and his business manager (his girlfriend) were both living in Chapel Hill at the time.  Carey had also previously signed yet another UNC player, Quan Sturdivant, but Sturdivant had later switched to a different agent.
            Julius Nyang’oro hired Carey to teach a course during the first summer session called Foundations of Black Education.  Carey had formerly been an adjunct professor and academic adviser to football players at UNC before eventually leaving the university in 2002 and starting an advising business for athletes.  He would go on to become a sports agent in 2005, with his biggest client being the aforementioned former UNC star Julius Peppers.  Much more on the massive impact that Peppers had on the overall UNC scandal will be revealed in Chapter Nine.
            Karen Gil, UNC’s Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences who oversaw Nyang’oro, approved the hire of Carey – but said she did not know he was a sports agent.  “In hindsight,” she said in an email to the News and Observer, “it would have been better to know.”  She did not make herself available for an interview, nor did she respond to further questions the newspaper had about the hire.  Other UNC officials indicated that Carey was allowed to teach the class because he had the credentials and experience.  He held a PhD in Educational Psychology, and he had also taught the exact same class 11 years prior in the same department under Nyang’oro.
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            Carl Carey told the News and Observer that he knew little about Nyang’oro – despite the fact that he had previously taught under the department chairman in the early 2000’s.  He also claims he told Nyang’oro that he was a sports agent.  Carey said, “I was there because of my love for teaching students.  I was not there for any other purpose but to teach the class.”  The fact that he had entered into a monetary arrangement with Robert Quinn, however, would raise suspicions to those claims.  At the time of the article’s release, Carey was suing Quinn, a first-round pick of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, in an attempt to recover nearly $300,000.  Carey indicated that the money was comprised of loans and advances he gave Quinn in advance of an expected professional contract.  As mentioned earlier, Quinn was also living in Chapel Hill at the time.  Regarding the depth of the past relationship between Julius Nyang’oro and Carl Carey, Nyang’oro was unable to confirm or refute Carey’s statements, as the head of the AFAM department did not respond to numerous requests for interviews – for this current story, for any of the past ones, or any that would arise in the future. 
            Carole Browne, a Wake Forest University biology professor who also had recently served as a co-chairman for the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, was also interviewed for the article.    The Coalition had previously proposed reforms for college athletics, and Browne said that hiring a sports agent to teach a class was “absolutely an atrocious thing to do.”  She continued by saying, “It’s giving the agent the opportunity to run into students even incidentally, which could generate problems.”  As future information regarding UNC’s athletes and the AFAM department would surface, enrollment data would show that possible contact within the hallways of that department with the school’s premier athletes would be anything but incidental.
The hiring of Carey would be the third direct questionable activity to which Nyang’oro was tied.  Previously he had missed obvious plagiarism in a paper by football player Michael McAdoo.  Next, the transcript of Marvin Austin showed he was allowed to take an upper-level class as an incoming freshman, despite the doubtful signs of Austin’s preparedness for collegiate work.  Unfortunately for Nyang’oro, the AFAM department, and the university as a whole, more was yet to come.
* * *
            On September 1, 2011, less than two weeks after the partial transcript of Marvin Austin showed questionable academic practices, and only a few days following the disclosure that a sports agent was hired to teach at the school, Julius Nyang’oro resigned from his position as chairman of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies.  Chancellor Holden Thorp announced in a statement that the university would also be looking at “possible irregularities with courses that included undergraduate students.”  Despite a bold proclamation in the statement by Thorp that said, “Because academic integrity is paramount, we have every obligation to get to the bottom of these issues,” future deliberate stonewalling measures taken by the school would bring those words into question.
            Even though Nyang’oro would be ceding his position as chairman, the statement indicated that he would continue to teach, according to the September 1st article by the News and Observer.  As a result of leaving the chairman’s post, Nyang’oro would lose $12,000 in salary.  He had previously been making $171,000 a year, overseeing a staff of 22.  Once again, Nyang’oro declined to comment on all matters.  When reached at his office, he referred the reporter to the university administration.
            In a column posted in The Daily Tar Heel several days later, author Will Doran opined that when Nyang’oro resigned his chairman position the previous week, “it was several years too late.”  In a hard-hitting centerpiece from the university’s campus-centric newspaper, Doran pointed out many of the “elephants in the room”; topics that had previously only been skirted around by the mainstream media.  The author noted that Nyang’oro missed the plagiarism by Michael McAdoo – or perhaps ignored it.  He cited Marvin Austin’s suspiciously high grade, and the hiring of Carl Carey.  Also referenced was UNC’s “much-touted academic integrity,” with ironic emphasis given towards those words throughout the remainder of the article. 
            According to the column, university registrar data on the class rating website unc.blinkness.com showed that between 2003 and 2009, Nyang’oro gave out 74 percent A’s, 25 percent B’s, and only 1 percent C’s to a total of 1,126 students.  In the words of the author, those numbers “might not seem out of place in an elementary school classroom, but they should have been scoffed at in the rigorous academic atmosphere” that UNC “claims to value.”  Instead, he noted, many of the former chairman’s department colleagues followed his grading lead, with statistics supplied.  “The consensus from anonymous reviewers on Blinkness was that participation and attendance would be enough to get an A,” the article stated.  “Several others also said a bit of reading might not hurt.”
            The article concluded by touching on Chancellor Thorp’s edict that the university would be looking into areas of the department.  “Let’s not stop with this department,” the article suggested.  “Administrators should investigate all the departments that inflate grades so far that the University’s integrity pops… We’re paying for a stellar education, not a stellar transcript.  Anyone who truly believes in the lofty ideal of academic integrity must desire it at all steps, not just on the football field.”  There was at least one part of the reviewer-comments on Blinkness that would later appear to be off the mark to a degree.  Regarding some AFAM classes and the notion that attendance would be needed in order to get a good grade, data would soon emerge to show that even being present in a classroom wasn’t always necessary for achievement at UNC. 
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The essential (and unanswered) questions:
-- Who was ultimately responsible for enrolling/allowing Austin to take (and receive a high grade in) a 400-level class?
-- Why wasn’t there more institutional oversight regarding the extremely questionable hiring of a professional sports agent to teach an on-campus class?

-- How close was Carl Carey’s relationship with Julius Nyang’oro – not only when he was hired in the summer of 2011, but also back when Carey taught in the department in the early 2000’s?