Sara Ganim: ‘Whole Group Knew This Existed’

After five years of investigating, the University of North Carolina has been found to have committed academic fraud – for the last 18 years – in an effort to keep athletes academically eligible. The fraud involved roughly 3,100 students – half of which were athletes, including 10 of the 15 members of UNC’s 2005 men’s basketball championship team.

The fraud involved fake classes designed by Julius Nyang’oro, the department chair of the African American studies program. He also got help from an assistant, Debbie Crowder, who was sympathetic to athletes.

The report, which was released Wednesday, was a long time coming for UNC.

“This campus has been dealing with this for five years,” CNN investigative reporter Sara Ganim said on The MoJo Show. “This first came to light in the end of 2010. Almost five years ago it started as an agent scandal, and it kind of snowballed in this weird way here on campus. A whole class came through this university with very few answers and kind of this nagging question of what really happened and who really knew about it. Information was trickling out, but the university was really only responding to allegations as they surfaced. And they really did not go back – as much as they say they tried – they did not go back for many years and dig deep and look at the transcripts and really truly talk to people about what happened.

“They tried for many years to say this was the work of one rogue professor and his assistant,” Ganim continued. “That’s partially true. It was this professor, Julius Nyang’oro, who was director of the African American studies program, and he did have these independent classes that he was not truly teaching. There was no classwork involved. It was just a simple paper that you had to hand in, and you got a grade for it and his assistant was the one who was grading those papers without reading the content.

“But it wasn’t just the two of them acting alone. There was a whole group of advisors who knew that this existed and they actively used them to keep athletes eligible. It wasn’t just basketball and it wasn’t just football. It was all kinds of sports, especially the Olympic sports. If they knew a player was on the brink of eligibility, they would put them into a class and tell the assistant, Debbie Crowder, this is the grade an athlete needs to get to stay eligible to play. This was going on for 18 years.

“And while there have been in the last couple of years allegations of that, the university didn’t own up to that until today. This was the first time we heard anyone at the university admit that this wasn’t just an academic scandal. It was an athletic scandal too.”

According to Chancellor Carol Folt, four university employees have been fired, five were disciplined and one former employee had honorary status removed.

To cite one example of the fraud: Former UNC football player Mike McAoo reportedly wanted to major in criminal justice but was steered toward African American studies – and several no-show classes.

“The schedule had four or five African American studies classes on it,” Ganim said, “and those are the classes that he took.”

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