UNC to begin academic probe

Updated: August 17, 2012, 1:01 PM ET
By Robbi Pickeral | ESPN.com

North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp wants his university to finally be able to move on from the academic scandal that continues to hover over its Afro and African-American Studies and athletics departments.

To do so, the school has enlisted a former governor and an outside consulting firm to probe whether the problems go any deeper, or farther back in time.

Thorp announced Thursday that former North Carolina governor James G. Martin will lead an independent review of any additional academic irregularities that may have occurred before 2007.

Martin, a former member of Congress who also serves on the Board of Directors of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, will be assisted by Virchow, Krause & Company, LLP, a national management consulting firm experienced in academic performance procedures and controls.

"We've got so much to be proud of at Carolina," Thorp told ESPN.com on Thursday, "and we've got to reassure people that we're taking care of this situation, and position athletics and the University and everybody in the Carolina family to move forward."

In May, UNC made public an internal probe that found that 54 AFAM classes were either " aberrant" or "irregularly" taught from summer 2007 to summer 2011. That included unauthorized grade changes, forged faculty signatures on grade rolls, and limited or no class time.

UNC says no student received a grade without submitting written work. But more than 50 percent of the students in those suspect classes were athletes. As first reported by The (Raleigh) News & Observer, one class last summer had an enrollment of 19 -- 18 football players and one former football player.

Late last month, a faculty committee looking into the scandal issued a new report stating that academic counselors assigned to the athletes may have pushed them into those classes. Then last weekend, what appears to be a partial transcript of former two-sport star Julius Peppers' was uncovered by NC State message board posters. His alleged low grades and class choices raised questions about how far problems in the AFAM program go back.

That put more pressure on Thorp and UNC to dig deeper into the academic misconduct.

[+] EnlargeHolden Thorp
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeNorth Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp wants to get to the bottom of the school's academic scandal.

UNC says it shared the results of its original internal probe with the NCAA before the NCAA sanctioned the football program for improper benefits and academic misconduct involving a tutor last March. And so far, it looks as if the AFAM situation has been deemed an institutional, rather than an NCAA, issue because the classes were open to non-athletes and it appears the problems originated on the academic, rather than athletics, side.

University officials have said the blame for the AFAM scandal falls upon two individuals: Julius Nyang'oro, longtime chairman of the department who was forced to retire, and Deborah Crowder, the longtime department manager who retired in 2009.

Asked again Thursday whether he remained confident this isn't an NCAA issue, Thorp told ESPN.com: "I'm not going to comment on that one way or another, but certainly we have disclosed everything that's gone on here, and we've done in an appropriate way."

The school said in a statement that Virchow, Krause & Company will review new academic performance policies, procedures and controls the university already has put in place in the AFAM department, as well as the College of Arts and Sciences and the Summer School. Thorp said in a prepared statement the school is "determined to make sure that our internal controls are such that irregularities of the past will not recur."

To that end, the school is also re-organizing the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes, and hiring a new director who will report solely to the Department of Arts and Sciences. That program had been under the auspices of Arts and Sciences, but had leaders who reported to both that department, and to athletics.

Two new athletics advisers will be added to the program, Thorp said, "to give us more capacity to take care of the enrollments of the athletes, and give them academic advice." But the College of Arts and Sciences, not athletics department, will have sole control of academic support for athletes and non-athletes.

Also, Thorp said he has appointed Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, to help UNC examine the future relationship between academics and athletics on campus. That examination had been suggested by the faculty committee, and will begin after Martin and their consulting firm complete their probe.

Asked how long the newest probe will take, Thorp said he hopes it will conclude in a matter of weeks -- although he wants it to be thorough. The findings will be shared with a four-member panel of the Board of Governors, which already is reviewing UNC's original investigation into the AFAM department.

"This is being done for two reasons,'' Thorp said during a phone interview. "One, is to expand the investigation, which is needed. And the other, which is frankly more important to me, is to be able to reassure people that the controls we put into place will stop this from happening again."

He added: "I'm confident that the process that I've put in place here is one that will allow us to move forward. & The fundamentals of the University are so strong. Our public giving is in great shape, our grants are outstanding, applications are way up  we've got a great story to tell. And we've got to get this whole situation resolved so we can get back to talking about the great work that is going on here."

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