For the last 20 years, Julius Nyang’oro was the chairman of the African and Afro-American studies department at University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, but he has now been indicted for fraud.
According to the New York Times, in 2011, 19 undergrad students signed up for a course called AFAM 280: Blacks in North Carolina, which was taught by Nyang’oro. But university officials and authorities say AFAM 280 never met. AFAM 280 is just one of the over a dozen classes that authorities have realized weren’t completely taught or taught at all.
Eighteen of the 19 students enrolled in the class were members of the North Carolina football team (the other was a former member), reportedly steered there by academic advisers who saw their roles as helping athletes maintain high enough grades to remain eligible to play.
Handed up by an Orange County, N.C., grand jury, the indictment charged Nyang’orowith “unlawfully, willfully and feloniously” accepting payment “with the intent to cheat and defraud” the university in connection with the AFAM course — a virtually unheard-of legal accusation against a professor.
The indictment, critics say, covers just a small piece of one of the biggest cases of academic fraud in North Carolina history. That it has taken place at Chapel Hill, known for its rigorous academic standards as well as an athletic program revered across the country, has only made it more shocking.
Two reports on the activities of the African and Afro-American studies department, one internal and one conducted by a former governor of North Carolina, James G. Martin, found problems with dozens of courses and said as many as 560 unauthorized grade changes were suspected of having been made — often with forged faculty signatures — dating back to 1997. The investigations began after reporting in The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., beginning in 2011.
Ironically, Nyang’oro retired from the university in July 2012 and has kept quiet about the accusations. The department is also accused of changing grades, forging faculty signatures and giving athletes preferential treatment. University officials noted that athletes from the football and basketball teams made up nearly half of the students enrolled in the departments courses.
But Nyango’oro isn’t alone, authorities also note that Deborah Crowder, the department manager, was also involved. Crowder resigned from the university in 2009 after 30 years, but she has not been charged.
Some faculty members feel that Nyango’oro is being made out to be a scapegoat for the university.
“My view is that the university is portraying these two people, Nyang’oro and Crowder, as a couple of rogue employees,” Mr. Michael West, a former colleague of Nyango’oro said.
“But I am sure there were many people in the athletic department and elsewhere who were aware of it,” he added. “These two people are being made to take the blame and put out to dry, when the problem was institutional.”
Nyang’oro’s lawyer, Bill Thomas, said that his client will have his time to explain himself. “There’s been one side of this story that has been put forth in the press, but he’s going to have an opportunity to present his side,” Mr. Thomas said.