The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill is again embroiled in an embarrassing controversy which now impeaches both the Tar Heels athletic as well as academic reputation. To try to settle the matter, the University of North Carolina hired Kenneth Wainstein to investigate scholarly controversies in Chapel Hill.
What Attorney Wainstein found was that from 1993 to 2009, Dr. Julius Nyang’oro “taught” an African American studies course at UNC. During those 18 years, 3100 students (among them 1500 Tar Heel student-athletes) took a phantom course with easy grades.
Dr. Nyang’oro’s “shadow curriculum”, however, went beyond the pale. Students in his African American Independent Studies courses never had to meet with the professor, or their scheduled classes actually never occurred. The grade was derived entirely from a single paper, which was often plagiarized and padded. Then these paper were given a cursory read and generously graded by Deborah Crowder, a non-academic motivated to help struggling athletes.
For several years, administrators in Chapel Hill were content with the conceit that this phantom curriculum was confined to a couple of rogues in the African American Studies department. But Wainstein’s investigation, along with academic advisor whistleblower Mary Willingham has revealed a more extensive and sinister customary operating procedure at Chapel Hill for struggling student athletes.
Willingham went public because she could not countenance the fraud of functionally illiterate students passing so that they could keep academic eligibility. Willingham expected death threats, but she did not expect UNC to disavow her research that between 8% to 10% of student athletes could not read beyond a third grade level.
Attorney Wainstein’s hard hitting report disputed the inference that student athlete cheating were isolated incidents and gave credence to Willingham’s data that Tar Heel student athletes were poorly equipped to study at an elite research university, but that a system of phantom curriculum kept them eligible. Moreover, UNC officials overlooked the number of independent studies courses coming from the African American Studies department, and how many of them were taken by student athletes.
The reason why the Wainstein report is different than two prior investigations into the matter is that Wainstein obtained the cooperation of Nyang’oro and Crowder, the two UNC officials at the center of the scandal.