Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Does UNC-Chapel Hill's Phantom Classes Scandal Mask Implicit Racism?

No-show college courses and grade changes for student-athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were back in the news this week following a grand jury’s indictment of a former professor for obtaining property by false pretenses. This story has been around since the NCAA’s investigation in 2010, but UNC has held firm on its position that only two employees in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, department chair Julius Nyang’oro and his assistant, were responsible for academic fraud. This week’s Bloomberg Businessweek is more skeptical about the scope of the misconduct in its article, The Scandal Bowl: Tar Heels Football, Academic Fraud, and Implicit Racism. For the writer, Paul Barrett, the university’s lack of commitment to educating black student-athletes that it woos to play sports and the cynical choice of the Afro-American studies department as the incubator for academic fraud shows implicit racism. In an internal investigation in 2012, headed by former NC Governor Jim Martin, UNC reported that the academic anomalies (about 200 no-show or one-meeting courses and grade change rates that were three to six times higher than the university average) went on for fourteen years without the university's knowledge. The investigation found no connection between the high percentage of black college athletes in “phantom” Afro-American Studies courses and the school’s athletic program.

Interestingly, Nyang’oro had taught the course that reportedly is the basis of the indictment, “Blacks in North Carolina,” for years but never sought payment. A university dean insisted that Nyang’oro be paid for the course in summer 2011. In August 2011, the Raleigh News and Observer received a student’s transcript showing that an incoming student took a 400-level class with Nyang’oro the summer before taking English 100 in his freshman year, which ultimately led to Nyang'oro's resignation. Barrett predicts, “[F]urther investigation will reveal that the fraud reached deep into the Tar Heel athletic hierarchy and that senior academic officials will also turn out to have been at least aware of improprieties.” Perhaps, although a lot of dominos will have fall in Chapel Hill for this case to mirror the Penn State inquiry.  Click the links to read more about the UNC case in the New York Times and Businessweek.com.


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