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Friday, July 27, 2012
How UNC athletes found suspect classes

By Robbi Pickeral

Ever since the University of North Carolina revealed in May that football and basketball players made up a high number of enrollments in 54 suspect African-American Studies classes, a major question has been: how did so many athletes end up there?

According to a report released Thursday by a special faculty committee looking into the academic fraud scandal, academic counselors assigned to help athletes likely had a hand in that push.

According to the 13-page report, which was authored by three professors:

Academic counselors for athletes at UNC are not supposed to steer them to particular classes. But the report notes that it likely happened because the academic advising staff for all students -- which is located in a different building than the athletic counselors -- have an average ratio of 500-students-to-one-counselor.

The report also noted that the academic support program is supposed to be under the auspices of College of Arts and Sciences, but its funding comes from the athletics department. Also, its director, Robert Mercer, reports to both the College of Arts and Sciences and to John Blanchard, a senior associate athletics director.

The University probe, which released its findings back in May, found that from 2007 to 2011, 54 courses within the Department of African and Afro-American Studies had little or no instruction, and some included unauthorized grade changes. One class, opened just days before the start of a summer session, contained 18 football players and one former football player, The News & Observer first reported.

UNC has said that athletes did not receive more favorable treatment than non-athletes in the classes; and that no student received a grade without submitting work that was assigned.

UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham told Inside Carolina recently that the NCAA was informed about the aberrant and irregular classes before it sanctioned the football program last March for impermissible benefits and academic fraud involving a tutor. He said he didn't anticipate the NCAA would further investigate the Af-Am Studies matter.

The faculty report Thursday reiterated that when it came to the Af-Am Studies courses, "there was a clear finding that only the former chair Julius Nyang’Oro and Deborah Crowder, a former staff member, had been involved in problems with the courses in the department.”

Nyang’oro has been forced into retirement, and Crowder retired in 2009.

The report calls for an independent commission of outside experts in higher education to review athletics and academics at the University. The committee did not find any errors in the school’s original investigation into the Af-Am Studies department, but suggests there should be a better system for signing off on course forms; that there should be more monitoring of student records and more oversight in University departments; and that student-athletes should be advised by the academic side of the University.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.