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UNC chancellor says university accepts responsibility for academic fraud

CHAPEL HILL UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt made a public admission Thursday that the university accepts responsibility and is “absolutely” accountable for the bogus African studies classes populated by athletes for years.

Speaking to the university’s Board of Trustees to mark six months since she became chancellor, Folt said of the academic fraud: “At Carolina, proceeding toward meaningful athletic and academic reform is requiring us to fully acknowledge and accept lessons of our past.”

She did not go as far as to say the bogus classes and independent studies were created specifically to keep athletes eligible.

“Although we don’t have evidence that the anomalous courses were initiated in order to benefit athletes, close to half who did enroll were student-athletes,” she said.

The unsupervised courses were “not reflective of the standard that we expect for our university,” she said.

“All of those students who were involved in those courses deserved better from us,” she said. “We also accept the fact that there was a failure in academic oversight for years that permitted this to continue. This too was wrong and it has undermined our integrity and our reputation, and created a very unhealthy atmosphere of mistrust. I think we all know that to move forward we have to make sure that everyone understands that we absolutely feel accountable and we’re going to learn from that painful history.”

In the African and Afro-American Studies Department, there were 200 lecture-style classes dating back to the mid-1990s that showed little or no evidence of any instruction. Investigations also found that roughly 500 grade changes were suspected or confirmed to be unauthorized.

University officials have placed the blame on the former department chairman, Julius Nyang’oro, and a department secretary, both of whom left the university. Nyang’oro has been indicted on criminal charges of obtaining property by false pretenses.

She called the academic fraud “a betrayal” of students but said the university has already taken many steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“There isn’t a faculty member or a staff member or people that are part of this that don’t want to get it right,” she said.

Folt’s remarks came after more than a week of explosive headlines and national news coverage about the literacy levels of UNC basketball and football players.

A university learning specialist, Mary Willingham, has said she analyzed data showing that a majority of a subset of athletes over an eight-year period could only read at elementary or middle school levels. Up to 10 percent were functionally illiterate, she has said.

University officials examined the data and last week called into question Willingham’s methodology and results. Provost Jim Dean called Willingham’s research “a travesty.”

The data will also be reviewed independently, the university has said.

The study is suspended for now, while Willingham applies to an internal review board that oversees research on human subjects.

Stancill: 919-829-4559
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