UNC probe reveals approximately 1,500 student-athletes took bogus classes

The University of North Carolina Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes was found culpable of creating easy, non-show classes that catered to student-athletes in an effort to give them better grades.

Kenneth Wainstein, a former top U.S. Justice Department official, said during a press conference Wednesday that academic counselors ushered as many as 3,100 students – approximately 1,500 of them student-athletes – into bogus classes that were geared toward keeping student-athletes eligible for play over the past 18 years (1993-2011).

The academic impropriety in Wainstein's report is far greater than previously reported by the school or to the NCAA.

Wainstein said many academic and athletic officials knew about the scheme, which began with Deborah Crowder, a longtime manager for the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, and gave student-athletes inflated grades for what Wainstein termed “paper classes.”

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Paper classes were essentially classes that were independent study, had no professor and just required a paper at the end of the term. According to Wainstein, Crowder never gave students a grade unless they actually submitted a paper, but she awarded “artificially high” grades to the papers submitted regardless of their content.

In the end, the disparity was clear. Students enrolled in an Afro-American Studies paper class would finish with a 3.62 GPA versus a 3.28 GPA for students in a regular Afro-American Studies course.

For 81 students, the GPA boost from those paper classes gave them a 2.0 GPA that allowed them to graduate from UNC.

In all, athletes made up about 47 percent of the enrollments in the 188 lecture-classified paper classes. Of that group, 51 percent were football players.

Chancellor Carol Folt said during the news conference that she was shocked to learn that the academic improprieties were well known around campus and that no one did anything to stop them. Instead, the culture was allowed to fester simply to keep football players and other student-athletes eligible and counselors were not only knowingly enrolling student-athletes in these bogus classes, they were steering them in that direction.

“Like everyone who read it, I feel shocked and very disappointed,” Folt said. “I think it’s a case where you have bad actions of a few and inaction of many more. And had actions or processes been in place, we could’ve caught it and stopped it a lot sooner.”

Wainstein did note that he found no evidence that coaches or other athletic officials began this scheme and there was no financial incentive involved. Butch Davis, the UNC football coach at the time, said he did know the classes were easier, but had no idea an administrator and not a professor graded them.

However, Crowder said she felt pressure to create the paper class, which was later continued by Crowder’s boss, longtime department chairman Julius Nyang’oro, after Crowder retired.

Wainstein’s report was conducted over eight months and included 126 interviews. He said he did not find involvement at the highest levels of the institution, but did criticize the school for not noticing the red flags.

The NCAA and UNC released a joint statement Wednesday saying the investigation was ongoing, but did not mention whether sanctions would be coming.

"The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the NCAA enforcement staff continue to engage in an independent and cooperative effort to review information of possible NCAA rules violations as announced earlier this year. The university provided the enforcement staff with a copy of the Wainstein Report for its consideration. The information included in the Wainstein Report will be reviewed by the university and the enforcement staff under the same standards that are applied in all NCAA infractions cases. Due to rules put in place by the NCAA membership, neither the university nor the enforcement staff will comment on the substance of the report as it relates to possible NCAA rules violations."

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