The Academic Support Program for Student Athletes;
more academic fraud; basketball and NAVS 302
Several major events that happened during the late-summer months of 2012 – the Peppers transcript revelation, the announcement of the Martin Investigation, and the Kupec/Hansbrough story – had effectively taken the spotlight off of an earlier topic that was still in limbo: the phone records of former football coach Butch Davis. A coalition of media entities had sued for those records to be released, and after more than a year of being entangled in legal proceedings a judge had finally ordered their disclosure. Some in the media speculated that Davis was now more apt to release them due to the effects of the Peppers’ discovery, which had essentially confirmed that the academic fraud started well earlier than 2007, the year that Davis took over the UNC football program full-time.
The phone records were released in late September of 2012, though the documents were still heavily redacted due to an agreement between the lawyers of Davis and the media. Sources stated that the media’s lawyers were given a choice of either receiving the names of each caller, or the number for each caller. They chose the latter. Next, all calls that were agreed upon as being clearly-personal were redacted to protect those individuals’ privacy; that “deciding” process was reportedly carried out together by both law teams, according to those same sources. The resulting document totaled 136 pages and spanned calls made from March 2009 to November 2010; only a portion were ultimately deemed 100% business related. Despite the fact that Davis was hired in late 2006 and not fired until mid-2011, the range of the phone records only coincided with the date range that was requested by the media over a year earlier. Whether going back any further in time (or forward to the summer of 2011) would have made any significant difference in the discovered results is unknown.
Five calls of note were those with tutor Jennifer Wiley, the young woman who had once worked in the academic support realm for the university, and then privately for Butch Davis’ family. She had been named in the NCAA’s sanctions as having provided impermissible academic assistance to players, as well as money and gifts. It would later be revealed that she also passed along cash payments to players from sports agents.
According to Jonathan Sasser, Davis’ lawyer, the calls from Wiley to Davis were made after she had initially been asked to meet with school investigators. Based on a News and Observer article from September 21, 2012, Sasser said Wiley asked Davis what the meeting was about and whether she should bring her father. Davis referred her to a school official, and Davis believed that she would attend the meeting, according to Sasser. However, Wiley later declined to speak with school officials or with investigators from the NCAA, and would later also decline all interview requests. Joseph B. Cheshire V, Wiley’s attorney (and also the attorney for Tami Hansbrough), wrote in an email to the newspaper: “She, her father and I made the decision not to talk about these matters. Coach Davis had nothing to do with that decision.”
As documented in earlier chapters, Butch Davis had personally hired Wiley after receiving a recommendation from a UNC official, according to a copy of a March 2008 email provided to the AP by Davis’ wife, Tammy. The September 21, 2012, newspaper article said that Tammy Davis defended Wiley as someone motivated by helping others. “I said it to… anybody who would listen,” she said, “in my heart and in my soul, I don’t believe that young lady would do anything intentionally to break rules.” A year later, however, information released in the fall of 2013 would shed new light on Wiley’s potential role regarding the intentional breaking of rules.
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As the month of September 2012 drew to a close and the school was still dealing with the news of Matt Kupec and Tami Hansbrough’s impermissible travels, as well as Chancellor Holden Thorp’s announced resignation, yet another series of troubling stories related to the schoolwork of UNC athletes would arise. In a September 30, 2012, article released by investigative reporters Dan Kane and J. Andrew Curliss of the Raleigh News and Observer, details were revealed that pointed to more academic fraud which the school had not earlier identified in its various internal investigations. The specific course in question was held in the spring of 2010, but had not been properly identified in the university’s spring 2012 review of the AFAM department.
According to the newspaper article, AFRI 370 was an upper-level course for seniors majoring in the AFAM department, and/or for other students with a background in the study of Africa. It was touted to have “lectures, readings, and research projects” on multiple complex issues. Not only were there no lectures or readings in the class, it also never met. Furthermore, several freshman football players had been enrolled in the class – a class which was supposedly of an advanced level, and for upperclassmen. The athletes simply had to turn in a 20-page paper, often produced with extensive help from tutors.
The majority of the newspaper’s information was gleaned from records obtained from UNC’s Academic Support Program for Student Athletes. The records showed that the athlete support program used the no-show classes to help keep student athletes eligible to play, according to the two investigative reporters. As noted above, the documents turned up informational oversights by the university’s previous in-house review. AFRI 370 hadn’t been revealed as a no-show class in the school’s initial probe in the spring. That led to the question of how many other fraudulent courses may have been missed in that original 2007-2011 review.
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The university had long said that the academic fraud was limited to department chairman Julius Nyang’oro and department manager Deborah Crowder, but the records obtained by the N&O also suggested that at least one other professor in the AFAM department was aware that no-show classes existed for athletes. Alphonse Mutima taught courses in the department, and at one point he was reportedly so discouraged by an athlete’s inability to grasp the content that he wanted to put the player in an “independent study paper class.” That was for a Swahili class, and the “paper class” version for intermediate Swahili, or SWAH 203, was suggested to have been set up to be an easy class. That was also the particular course that football player Michael McAdoo had taken where he had eventually been caught plagiarizing a paper. University records showed that there were at least four other no-show intermediate Swahili classes. Football players accounted for seven of the enrollments in those five no-show classes, while men’s basketball players accounted for three.
Certain Swahili courses held definite advantages for athletes, it was revealed. SWAH 112 combined the first two Swahili language classes into one intensive six-credit-hour course, for example. Those who passed it and the intermediate-level Swahili class would have then fulfilled their language requirement at the university. Unlike Spanish and other language courses taught more broadly at the school, there was no additional language lab required for Swahili. Records showed Swahili and Portuguese as popular languages for both basketball and football players. As noted in a previous chapter, football player Deunta Williams said that all freshmen players take Swahili. Information revealed in those new documents certainly gave possible insight into why that was the case. Basketball players other than Hansbrough had mentioned Swahili in the past as well. Reggie Bullock and John Henson both made references to classes when posting messages on the social media site Twitter. There were also instances from further back. Rye Barcott, the founder of a group called Carolina for Kiberia, graduated from UNC in the early 2000’s. He has been quoted in numerous news articles as saying: "I was fortunate enough to take Swahili classes with the starting lineup of the men's basketball team at UNC. That was quite an experience.” It appeared as if Swahili had been popular with major-sports athletes at UNC for quite some time. Whether those courses were taught irregularly or not remained unknown. Alphonse Mutima declined to comment for the newspaper article. He was a non-tenured professor in 2012 despite being hired in 1999, and was making $37,000 a year.
The obtained documents also suggested that the no-show classes were common knowledge within the athlete support program. “Professor Nyang’oro, Chair of the AFRI/AFAM Studies department, has been very generous in granting several students (not just student athletes) the opportunity to do independent study papers,” Amy Kleissler, a learning specialist with the athlete support program, wrote in a February 8, 2010, email informing tutors of the AFRI 370 paper class. “Since we have worked with him in the past in this same manner I wanted to let you know that his expectations are very reasonable and very achievable for our students.” “Our students” was an obvious reference to the university’s major-sports athletes.
The N&O article recounted other email exchanges that provided insight into the questionable actions of the athlete support program. When one tutor told the program’s assistant director, Beth Bridger, that she was discouraged with the work one player turned in, Bridger told the tutor not to worry. “Just remember,” Bridger wrote in a March 16, 2010, email, “guys are in this class for a reason – at-risk, probation, struggling students – you are making headway… keep it positive and encouraging!” As detailed in Chapter Two, Bridger had been chosen in August of 2009 to replace Cynthia Reynolds. Reynolds claimed she was moved out of her position because head coach Butch Davis wanted a younger “face” for the academic support program for recruiting purposes.
Another tutor, Whitney Read, wrote an email that showed she was concerned about papers that were largely put together with passages lifted from source materials. Jaimie Lee, an academic counselor, told her that type of work was “to be expected,” as many of the athletes had “not necessarily developed the skill of critical analysis.” In other documents Read noted that some athletes were rude during tutoring sessions, and did not appear to care about their classwork. Read graduated in 2009 with a degree in African Studies. At the time of the article she was no longer a tutor for the university, and declined to be interviewed. Several other former or current tutors also passed up the opportunity to talk to the newspaper about the support program. Kleissler and Lee referred questions to Bridger and other higher-ups in the program. Bridger did not return phone calls.
In a brief interview with the newspaper two days prior to the article’s release, Chancellor Holden Thorp also declined to talk about the records, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). He said he sent copies of the various documents to former Governor Jim Martin so that he could include the data in his ongoing investigation. Thorp did not explain to the newspaper why the records had not surfaced earlier, but he did say they were “of concern.”
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That September 30, 2012, article covered several other angles as well. It noted the challenges that faced the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes. In particular, the program was charged with working with a group of students who ordinarily wouldn’t have been admitted to the school had they not been high profile athletes. In the previous five years, records showed that 53 football players had been admitted as academic “exceptions.” However, as was the university’s pattern over the several months since the AFAM fraud was first uncovered, it continued to try and shield its basketball program from further scrutiny. As a result, it had chosen to not provide data from its basketball players regarding its number of academic exceptions.
Athletes typically had much greater need for classes that did not meet, the N&O article also pointed out. That correlated with earlier quotes given by former UNC basketball star Sean May, which were covered in an earlier chapter. Also as noted in a preceding chapter, athletes were given priority registration in terms of scheduling their classes. However, evidence showed that some non-athletes who enrolled in the classes did so unwittingly and were surprised to find the courses only consisted of a paper assignment. The article highlighted one such student who commented about the Spring 2010 AFRI 370 no-show class on a course evaluation website known as Koofers. “I am taking the course by submitting a paper with Prof. Nyang’oro and it is a bit daunting,” said the unidentified student in a comment posted in April 2010, long before the scandal was publicly uncovered. “I wish I was able to take the actual course with him.” Chancellor Thorp had previously said that students who were enrolled in those types of classes were cheated out of a Carolina education. Whether he was referring to just the non-athletes who somehow managed to get into the classes, however, was unclear.
As those newest allegations of wrongdoing within the AFAM department surfaced via the News and Observer, university officials also admitted another troubling discovery for the first time: former department chairman Julius Nyang’oro, who had assumed that top position in 1992, had never received a review from a supervisor during the 20 years that he held the job. That would lead many to question whether the athletic/academic fraud could have been going on much further back than just 1999, which had been the current assumption based on the Peppers transcript. In a timeline of events covered earlier, Nyang’oro took over as department chairman of the AFAM department in 1992, and then multiple players on UNC’s basketball national title team of 1993 were later revealed to be majoring in AFAM.
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Several days later the university’s basketball program would once again be thrust into the middle of the ongoing academic scandal. In an October 2, 2012, article penned by Dan Kane and J. Andrew Curliss, enrollment records that had been requested by the News and Observer turned up some intriguing trends – and especially in one particular course. NAVS 302 was a Naval Weapons Systems class in UNC’s Department of Naval Science, which according to school documents existed in order to produce “highly qualified” officers who serve on ships, aircraft, and submarines, or in the Marine Corps. In the spring of 2007, however, the newspaper reported that 30 of the 38 students who took NAVS 302 were athletes, and six of them were members of the men’s basketball team.
Bobby Frasor, one of the basketball players who took the class, said he and his teammates were placed in it after the class instructor had discussed it with counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes. “He told our academic advisers,” Frasor said, “but I had never heard of the class, and basically, our academic adviser recommended it and we enrolled in it.” Former All-American Tyler Hansbrough was also in the class. Records showed that it was the only NAVS 302 class over the previous six years in which basketball players had enrolled. The academic adviser that had recommended the class was Wayne Walden, who was heavily discussed in an earlier chapter as being the probable lynchpin to the scheduling of classes for Roy Williams’ basketball players – first at Kansas, and then at UNC.
Hansbrough had told Sports Illustrated in March of 2007 that he was taking the Naval Systems class because “I wanted classes about things I wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to on my own.” In that same piece he said that he was enrolled in Swahili as his foreign language because he thought “it would be cool.” Not mentioned, however, was the fact that Wayne Walden was actually the suspected source behind the vast majority of UNC basketball players’ class selections, as noted before. Data from the earlier AFAM fraudulent courses had shown two cases where the sole enrollee in a no-show class was a basketball player. Hansbrough declined to comment for the N&O article.
John Infante, who helped oversee NCAA compliance at Colorado State and Loyola Marymount, told the N&O in an interview that UNC’s support program for athletes had to be aware of the scheduling of the weapons class. “That many kids in a course which is that rare for athletes to take, you can probably assume – or at least say – that academic support staff should have known,” he said. “They should have noticed that.” The key question from an NCAA viewpoint, Infante said, would be how lenient the professor was with athletes once they enrolled and whether there was special treatment.
The professor for the class in question was Lt. Brian Lubitz, and according to UNC records he taught it only that one time. He was also earning his MBA from the school’s Kenan-Flagler Business School at the time. By October of 2012 when the article was released, Lubitz had left the school and was working in the private sector. Several attempts by the newspaper to reach Lubitz over the previous two months had been unsuccessful.
The syllabus for the NAVS 302 class showed that it was a different type of course than in other years, according to Curliss and Kane’s article. It had no required exams or quizzes and no major research paper. Students received much of their grade from a short midterm paper and a group project. Lubitz spelled out in his syllabus that he reserved the right to have quizzes and tests, but the syllabus said, “At this time none are anticipated.” The class’s average grade that semester was a 3.63, or slightly better than a B-plus. That was apparently so misaligned from past NAVS 302 results that the work requirements for the course would eventually be changed.
The head of the Naval Science department at UNC at the time of the October 2012 article was Capt. Doug Wright. He said the course work requirements in that particular class had troubled his predecessor, Capt. Stephen Matts, so much so that Matts told instructors who took over after Lubitz that he wanted the requirements changed, as mentioned above. Indeed, later course outlines showed quizzes, tests, and papers or presentations. Capt. Matts, the head of the department when Lubitz taught the course, could not be reached by the reporters for comment.
Capt. Wright backed Matts’ assessment. Wright said he would have made the same changes because the class (as set up under Lubitz, and as taught to the 30 athletes) would make it difficult to determine whether students were actually learning the material. “It would make it harder to… figure out how they are doing,” Wright said. “Could it be done? Sure. Is it ‘illegal?’ No. But I wouldn’t have done it and apparently my predecessor didn’t approve of it either because they changed it.” Since Wright took over the department, the weapons class average grade had dropped to roughly a C.
Chancellor Holden Thorp said in an interview that the class looked like an example of clustering, which was covered in an earlier chapter when referencing the chosen majors of several of UNC’s basketball players. The article noted that universities often try to track clustering to make sure classes and majors had not become easy spots for athletes trying to keep their grades up to stay eligible for sports. However, the data strongly suggested clustering wasn’t an area which UNC placed great importance upon in the past.
Thorp went on to tell the paper that he had since sent the information on the Naval class to former Governor Jim Martin to be included as part of his review. Efforts by the newspaper to reach other members of the 2006-07 basketball team were unsuccessful, and Bobby Frasor declined to say which of his teammates attended the class. Only one player on that year’s team, Wes Miller, had a grade-point average of 3.0 or better for the year, according to an analysis the News and Observer did of Atlantic Coast Conference data.
In an editorial that appeared in the newspaper the following day, questions were again raised about the true intentions of certain aspects of UNC’s athletic/academic infrastructure: “Once again, here is an example of an ‘academic support program’ being aimed at keeping the stars on the field – or on the court. That is not, or should not be, the purpose of a counseling program supposedly aimed at helping people achieve in the classroom on their own. And yes, once again, the question is raised: Why should athletes, already isolated enough thanks to their practice and game schedules, have their own adviser system? Finally, why would such a specialized course aimed at future Naval officers even be open to other students? One hopes Chancellor Holden Thorp, who is resigning to return to the faculty, could get to the bottom of that on his own, without waiting for reports from ongoing investigations related to the previously disclosed academic fraud.”
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Head basketball coach Roy Williams held a news conference on Thursday, October 11, 2012, to discuss the upcoming season. According to a corresponding article in the News and Observer, he was also faced with questions related to his past players taking the unusually easy Naval Weapons class. His overall message was that he saw no issue in six of his players having enrolled in a class that was filled mostly with athletes, and that had no quizzes or exams. “I would have loved to have taken something like that (on naval weapons),” Williams said, “and I don’t think it’s an aberration.”
Regarding his opinion that the lack of exams and quizzes were a non-issue, he offered that when he was a student at UNC he took a guidance counseling class in which the grade was based on “participation in class and role play,” and that they didn’t have any tests, either. “I don’t know what (Lubitz’s) deal was,” Williams said. “If he felt like he was teaching something and they were learning what he wanted, then he must have felt good about doing it that way, just like me.” Williams also said he did not have a problem with academic counselors responsible for helping athletes get their class work done also recommending classes for them to take. He did not, however, mention Wayne Walden’s potential role in that process.
The article also stated that Williams offered little new information regarding the many known no-show classes. Instead, he repeated earlier statements that acknowledged that mistakes were made, but he had all along avoided giving many specifics about basketball players’ involvement in those courses. This, despite data that showed some of the classes contained only basketball players. “I’ve said thousands of time – no that’s an exaggeration – but several times that, you know, the investigation has brought up some things that we’re not proud of, that we’re not happy about,” Williams said at the press conference. “But I think it is a very small problem that we’ve got to take care of, and I think we are doing it. But to answer your question, I’m sort of tired of answering those questions.”
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Three days after news surfaced of the basketball players’ enrollment in the Naval Weapons class, the News and Observer published an article that showed that multiple experts felt it was past time for the NCAA to return to UNC. Mark Jones, a former director of the NCAA’s infractions section, acknowledged in an interview that academic concerns covered a wide spectrum, and that definitions of what might trigger sanctions were not always clear-cut. However, many of the events that had taken place at UNC seemed to plainly call for a closer look. “One of the things the NCAA wants to make absolutely clear is that whenever you have a staff member at a school who is doing anything to substitute their work for a student athlete’s work,” Jones said, “or is doing something improper to change a grade or arrange a fraudulent credit, then that’s a violation.” Those were some of the exact occurrences that had happened within the fraudulent AFAM courses identified earlier in 2012, where grade changes were made without authorization and through forgery. Furthermore, documents that had recently been released from the school’s Academic Support Program for Student Athletes indicated that tutors and academic advisors likely provided an impermissible level of paper-writing for athletes spanning a number of years.
Other experts weighed in on the issue, as well. Gerald Gurney was a professor at the University of Oklahoma, and had also previously been the 2010-11 President of the National Association of Academic Advisers for Athletics. He said that what had happened at UNC with African Studies and other courses was “a classic pattern of an endemic problem in academic support. This has all of the ingredients of a major academic violation because it is so systematic over a long period of time. I feel certain that the NCAA is planning on inviting themselves back. They simply can’t let this go.”
The article noted that NCAA President Mark Emmert had told CBSSports.com in a radio interview earlier that week that his organization was closely monitoring the unfolding situation in Chapel Hill. A UNC spokesman said that the university had been in contact with the NCAA and that there was “ongoing communication.” That was a slight shift from five weeks earlier, when the school had said that the fraudulent African Studies classes were not subject to NCAA sanctions simply because they had included non-athletes as well as athletes – an announcement that had drawn national criticism of the NCAA.
Allen Sack, who was a professor of sports management at the University of New Haven and was the head of the Drake Group, said that there had always been “easy” classes at universities. But he told the N&O that the various recently-released documents showed something different that fans might not fully understand: Athletes were not supposed to get the kind of extra help from the athletics support program that was shown in the documents. “This is a major scandal because it raises serious questions about athletic counseling as a cottage industry,” Sack said. “I certainly suspected this stuff was going on (around the country), but the documents (the paper is) disclosing are convincing me that the NCAA should come into UNC and that the time for a congressional hearing of the NCAA itself has arrived.”
David Ridpath was a professor at Ohio University at the time of the article, and had formerly worked in athletics compliance at Marshall University when it faced NCAA sanctions. He reviewed a draft of a research paper that a UNC athlete had worked on with a tutor. Ridpath said the player’s paper was “about 90 percent plagiarized” and that the athlete was getting improper help. He said what had been happening at UNC certainly “meets the NCAA’s academic fraud bylaws.” Chancellor Holden Thorp simply said the latest document disclosures were all under review, and acknowledged that they were a “concern” for the university.
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An article by Rachel George of USA Today Sports appeared on October 10, 2012, and gave more fuel to the “NCAA should return” fire. At one point it referenced the Naval class data that had been revealed by the News and Observer, and said the new information in conjunction with the eventual findings of the Martin Investigation could prompt another visit from the Association. Jo Potuto, then Nebraska’s faculty athletics representative to the NCAA and previously a member of the Committee on Infractions for nine years, confirmed to USA Today that it was her experienced opinion that the Association’s enforcement staff could revisit the school as more details emerged. Speaking generally and without particular knowledge of the UNC case beyond media reports, she said, “You’re typically more likely to go back and revisit the more serious the charges are. That being said, academic integrity issues are pretty large violations.”
Very few UNC faculty members other than history professor Jay Smith had spoken out during the scandal, but Lewis Margolis, an associate professor in the school of public health, talked to USA Today. He expressed his frustration that public records requests and reporting had forced the university’s hand. “If UNC were more transparent, those stories would not be there,” said Margolis, likely referring to the myriad of angles the Raleigh News and Observer had been covering for the past several years. “(The reporters are) doing their job. We, the university, should be doing its job.” A coalition of local North Carolina media outlets had filed a lawsuit against UNC in 2010 seeking records related to the NCAA investigation. Citing federal privacy laws, university officials resisted the release of many, wrote Rachel George. A judge, however, had recently ordered the release of several of the records sought by the group, which had resulted in the recent series of new stories.
Still up for debate was whether the wide-ranging problems were limited to the actions of only a few employees who didn’t follow procedures, or whether they were a byproduct of a systemic issue, the article stated. Many within the school’s administration, athletics department, and faculty held fast to the mantra that the issues were caused by a very small number of people on campus. And as was usually the case, any talking points from the university made sure to deflect attention away from the school’s basketball program, as well as to try and downsize the scope of the academic fraud in general. New Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham said in the article, “The major infractions were in football. And then I think in that discovery process, we saw we had a little bit of a lack of oversight in a certain department. But I do think that the issues are very, very isolated.”
The public-relations talking points seemed to be working, however, as many in the general public who were not aware of the exact details of the scandal appeared to believe whatever quotes they read. William Brader, a freshman UNC student, said: “It seems kind of unfair because there are a lot of other universities doing it and we got caught.” Professor Jay Smith, however, remained a strong – albeit virtually lone – voice of reason: “What has been most troublesome to me about this entire scandal, if we’re going to call it that, over the last two years, is that it has called into question our institutional decision-making and our priorities.”
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The UNC System Board of Governors had assigned a five-member academic review panel to look into the latest troubling reports out of Chapel Hill. According to a sidebar article that appeared on October 11, 2012, in the Raleigh News and Observer, Chairman Louis Bissette of Asheville said it was clear that more needed to be done to get to the bottom of the problems at the school. University staffers and faculty members met with the panel on that date. One person in particular who was questioned by the panel was the dean who was in charge of the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes, Harold Woodard. His program had come under heavy scrutiny due to its role in helping athletes. At one point, according to the N&O article, Dean Woodard told the panel that tutors had in the past provided athletes with what he called “overhelp.” Woodard, as recounted earlier, was a former lecturer in the African curriculum at UNC, played a major role in securing a new Black Cultural Center for the school (which had ties to Julius Nyang’oro), and was formerly the boss of Robert Mercer, who had overseen the athlete support program for the vast majority of the years when the academic fraud had occurred. Woodard said in an interview that his office had not provided any records to any outside reviewers to date, but that they had them. Louis Bissette, the chair of the special Board of Governors panel, said that any competent review of the school’s scandal would have to include scrutiny of the tutor documents.
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On October 16, 2012, former Governor Jim Martin stopped by the News and Observer’s office to provide an update on the status of the investigation, according to an article published by tarheelblog.com. Amongst the various points disclosed by Martin were that the original goal was to have the investigation finished by October 11th, but that the new target date was the end of the month – and it could quite possibly take even longer. Martin indicated that according to data the AFAM classes were not the easiest at UNC, but rather other departments had higher grades on average. He did not divulge which departments those higher grades belonged to. Earlier articles from other news entities had pointed out that while a decent percentage of UNC basketball players had majored in AFAM, it was not the top choice – that distinction belonged to Communications.
Another vitally important disclosure was that neither Julius Nyang’oro nor Deborah Crowder had spoken to members of Martin’s team, and Martin said he did not expect the pair to, either. Again, he did not expand on the point at all. That lack of explanation would end up being the most important aspect of the topic. It was well known from earlier university reports that Nyang’oro and Crowder were heavily suspected of playing a vital role in much of the academic fraud. It would be a logical assumption that once a person with unlimited investigative leeway and privileges (such as Martin supposedly had) concluded that those two key individuals would not talk, he would have used ancillary methods to gather information. Namely, the emails and/or phone records of Nyang’oro and Crowder. History would ultimately show, however, that Martin and his team did little to none of that. It would be yet another strong suggestion that the university apparently secured a figurehead to do a façade of an investigation, as opposed to hiring a true investigator to get to the bottom of the fraudulent athletic issues.
Next, Martin said, “I haven’t found anyone that knew that the courses were phony.” The obvious yet unspoken response was, who would have actually admitted that fact? If students who took the classes did, then they could risk losing credit for a course. If faculty members did, they could risk losing salary and/or their jobs. And if people associated with athletics and who made sure players were in those no-show classes admitted it, then victories could be vacated. But again, that line of reasoning had apparently not been pursued by the former governor or his team. Martin was, however, asked by the N&O whether the AFAM classes were a “scheme to keep athletes eligible.” His response was that tutors simply worked to help athletes into courses they could handle.
Martin’s brief update to the newspaper left more questions unanswered than solved. Based on the lack of answers (and investigating) into issues that appeared to be obvious problems to the casual observer, the public’s faith in Martin and his team getting to the true root of the scandal was beginning to fade. Whether that was due to a lack of investigative skills, a lack of desire, or both, was a matter of debate.
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The month of October would draw to a close with yet another embarrassing anecdote of plagiarism from UNC athletes. An October 21, 2012, article in the News and Observer revealed that Erik Highsmith, a then-current football wide receiver, had written two blog posts for a class that were copied almost exactly from a passage on an education website written by four 11-year olds. Furthermore, information surfaced that the instructor of the course had reported the infraction, but there was little evidence that any concrete action had been taken against the athlete.
J. Nikol Beckham, the instructor of the spring 2011 course in question, told the N&O that she had spotted the plagiarism and reported it to the academic support program for student athletes. Since it was in the midst of other examples of tutors providing improper help to athletes that an NCAA investigation had turned up, she was concerned the plagiarism went beyond Highsmith and her class. “I suggested that they consider that this isn’t an isolated incident,” she said, “and I expressed my disappointment considering everything that had been going on for the last year. And I received a great deal of assurances that it would be handled.”
Someone at the support program told Beckham that they would talk to the student, “but after that, I never heard anything,” she said. She was no longer teaching at the university as of the date of the article, having moved to work at a school in central Virginia. Highsmith declined to be interviewed, according to Steve Kirschner, an associate athletics director for communications at UNC. Other academic officials did not respond to numerous requests for comment by the N&O. As was the status quo for the past several years of the scandal, UNC officials declined by citing the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act (FERPA).
One thing Kirschner did do, however, was dispute that the plagiarism found to date suggested a systemic problem. “Faculty, advisors, counselors, coaches and staff interact with our student athletes daily and often remind them of the responsibility they have to do the right thing in all aspects of their lives – academically, athletically and socially,” Kirschner said in a written response. “And we believe our student athletes meet those responsibilities the overwhelming amount of time.”
It was unclear what grade Highsmith received in that COMM 350 course, the N&O reported. He was not the only athlete to plagiarize in the class, however. The blog entries showed Donte Paige-Moss, a defensive end who left the team after his junior season, copied a comment from the Collegiate Times website and posted it as a comment for the blog. No apparent action was taken against Highsmith upon the public revelation of the plagiarism. That October 21 article also told of a 19-page draft of a paper in an African Studies no-show class that was turned in to a tutor by a different football player. It consisted of little more than a string of copied passages, and was discovered when the newspaper obtained records from within the Academic Support Program. That particular player had also declined to be interviewed, and had not been suspended from any games since the draft paper became public.
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When an internal investigation of the many AFAM no-show classes was released back in May, the authors had stated that “no instance was found of students receiving a grade who had not submitted written work,” the News and Observer pointed out on October 21, 2012. What was noticeably missing from that report, however, was whether the students’ submitted work had been tested for plagiarism. The university also later acknowledged that the reviewers did not see every paper turned in because of a one-year retention policy of student assignments that the university held itself to. Like aspects of the Martin Investigation, they seemingly ignored the digital element and its implications. If students had emailed papers as attachments (as was the case with many classes in the current century), then those digital copies would still exist on the university’s vast computer servers.
To reiterate the above confounding technical limitation, the newspaper said that none of the investigations that were underway at the time appeared to have a goal of determining how often athletes were committing plagiarism. Former Governor Jim Martin said earlier in the week that he and Baker Tilly, the national accounting firm hired for the probe, simply did not have the time to take on a task like that.
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Jay Smith, the UNC history professor who had been one of the few faculty members to be outspoken about the scandal’s impact on the university’s academic integrity, told the News and Observer that the Academic Support Program needed a thorough review, regardless of what Martin found. “It’s painfully obvious to anybody who had been paying attention for the last couple of years that plagiarism seems to be widely accepted among at least a certain subsection of athletes, and, it would seem, within a certain number of counselors and tutors,” Smith said. “And that is a problem. That is a huge problem.” After over two years of scandal, Smith would finally get vocal support from another faculty member in the near future that actually contained substance. That will be detailed in the next chapter.
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The essential (and unanswered) questions:
-- Would Butch Davis’ phone records have shown other anomalies and their timeframe included his full tenure at the school?
-- How had the university managed to overlook the no-show AFRI 370 class in its earlier internal review, and how many other courses were similarly missed?
-- Historical evidence showed that not only did Swahili have multiple fraudulent courses in its curriculum, but also the strong tendency of basketball and football players to take it in order to fulfill their Foreign Language requirement. Considering that evidence, why wasn’t a closer look taken in order to determine if Swahili was an aberrant curriculum that existed at least in part for the benefit of UNC’s athletes?
-- Why would virtually every current and former tutor within the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes (that was contacted by the press) decline to publicly comment on his/her past interactions with athletes?
-- Despite “clustering” being a major red flag to most universities with regards to their major-sports athletes, why hadn’t UNC shown concern when six of its men’s basketball players all enrolled in a Naval Weapons class that had apparently never been taken by any members of the basketball program in the past?
-- Did the fact that an instructor was getting his MBA degree from UNC have any bearing on his teaching an overly lax course at the same time, which also happened to contain nearly 80% athletes and almost half of the school’s basketball team?
-- Despite quotes from numerous experts on NCAA matters that said the Association should return and reopen its investigation of UNC, why did that not happen after the most recent athletic/academic discoveries?
-- Why were the emails and phone records of Julius Nyang’oro and Deborah Crowder never meticulously examined by former Governor Jim Martin and his team?
-- Despite those early, clear signs that Martin may have lacked the investigative skills to adequately determine the true depth of the fraudulent issues at UNC, why didn’t the school, its Board of Trustees, or the System’s Board of Governors step in to correct the mistake of whom UNC had chosen to lead the review?
-- Why was no eligibility action ever taken against Erik Highsmith even though there was a documented case of him committing plagiarism?
-- Despite multiple past examples of UNC athletes plagiarizing their school work, why didn’t any of the various ongoing investigations feel a need to gather more data on that important issue?