UNC dismisses two more employees in academic-athletic scandal

UNC-Chapel Hill officials dismissed two more employees Thursday as part of its continued cleanup of the long-running academic-athletic scandal.
UNC-Chapel Hill officials dismissed two more employees Thursday as part of its continued cleanup of the long-running academic-athletic scandal. Raleigh

UNC-Chapel Hill officials dismissed two more employees Thursday as part of its continued cleanup of the long-running academic-athletic scandal, but allowed a former administrator accused of missing clues to the mess to keep her job.

UNC cleared three other employees, saying the evidence showed they lacked knowledge of what a detailed investigation found to be the critically culpable knowledge in the case: that Debby Crowder, a former administrative manager for the African and Afro-American Studies department, was grading papers for the classes that never met.

The disciplinary actions come more than a year after Kenneth Wainstein’s investigation into the scandal. Wainstein, a former top U.S. Justice Department official, found that Crowder had hatched a “shadow curriculum” of classes that never met and provided a high grade if students simply turned in a paper.

She began the classes in 1993, the report said, after counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes complained that the department’s independent studies were too demanding. At first, she listed them as independent studies, even though no professor was involved, but by the end of the decade she was giving them course numbers associated with lecture classes.

Those disciplined or dismissed are:

▪ Roberta “Bobbi” Owen, the former senior associate dean for undergraduate education who oversaw the athletes’ tutoring program, was prohibited from ever serving in an administrative or programmatic role. UNC officials said she failed to recognize that the high numbers of independent studies within the department were a strong indicator of the fake classes.

Owen remains at the university as a drama professor. She said in a statement that Wainstein’s report was “wrong about me.” Her attorney, Douglas Kingsbery, accused the university in a letter of not providing all of the email correspondence to Wainstein detailing what she knew and didn’t know as the boss of Crowder and Julius Nyang’oro, the department chairman. Nyang’oro had condoned Crowder’s fake classes, which often listed him as the professor.

Kingsbery said Owen denied knowing Nyang’oro was listed as teaching inordinately high numbers of independent studies, and that while she did “admonish” Nyang’oro about actions Crowder had taken, Owen did not know about the fake classes.

In Owen’s statement, she also said: “As far as I am concerned, I always kept my supervisors and others informed. That said, I have no interest in Senior Administrative Positions at UNC-Chapel Hill at this point in my career, but do look forward to continuing to fully participate as an active member of the faculty in my department and of the University community.”

▪ Travis Gore, an administrative assistant to the department, was fired for inappropriate help to students that included “falsifying an email” so two of them would be enrolled in an independent study course.

▪ Brent Blanton, associate director of the athletes’ academic support program, was “discontinued” in that role. UNC officials did not provide an explanation in his termination letter, only stating that he was an “at will” employee. Blanton, was hired in 2005, and worked with athletes in nonrevenue sports, particularly women’s soccer. Wainstein found Blanton had steered athletes to the classes but did not know Crowder was doing the grading.

The employees UNC determined had not acted improperly are Andre Williams, a former director of development for the football team who now works as an associate development director for the university’s Arts and Sciences Foundation; Corey Holliday, an associate athletic director who primarily works with the football team; and Alphonse Mutima, a Swahili instructor.

UNC officials found that none of the three knew Crowder graded the classes. They also found that Williams and Holliday had not attended a presentation in which the football team’s academic counselors discussed how the impending loss of the classes — via Crowder’s retirement — were an immediate threat to some players’ eligibility. UNC said Mutima had refused Crowder’s requests that he give athletes better grades.

UNC had previously forced the resignations of two faculty — Jan Boxill, the former faculty leader, and Tim McMillan, an AFAM instructor — and fired Jaimie Lee, who was a counselor to athletes. Beth Bridger, who had left UNC-Chapel Hill but was working at UNC-Wilmington, lost her job at UNC-W. Wainstein found the four knew Crowder was grading the papers.

UNC-CH officials say there are no more disciplinary actions pending.

Wainstein’s investigation found that 3,100 students -- half of them athletes -- took at least one fake class over an 18-year period. The NCAA has hit UNC with five major allegations of noncompliance, including a lack of institutional control. That case has yet to be heard by the NCAA’s infractions committee.

Staff writer Jane Stancill contributed to this story