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Wainstein report: A do-gooder, plagiarism, grade changes, and a chilling PowerPoint

• Crowder the ‘do-gooder’

Deborah “Crowder was known throughout campus as a ‘do-gooder’ who was always willing to help out a student who was struggling. … Crowder was also passionate about Carolina athletics. Her affinity for Chapel Hill’s teams – and particularly the men’s basketball team – was well known. She kept the men’s basketball calendars on her office walls; her office was a regular gathering place for the players; and according to several faculty members, she cared so much about the fortunes of the basketball team that she was occasionally unable to come to work for a day or two after the Tar Heels lost a basketball game.”

• Nyang’oro and ‘Professor Debby’

Julius “Nyang’oro’s administration of AFAM [African and Afro-American Studies] was more hands-off than his predecessors. While he sought to grow the Department and increase the number of faculty, he paid less attention to the curriculum and quality control. He also increasingly relied on Crowder to handle many tasks – such as scheduling courses, overseeing registration and approving enrollments – that would normally be handled or at least overseen by a faculty member or department chair. He also gave her approval to sign his name on Department paperwork, a delegation that Crowder used effectively to increase the scope of her personal authority. Over time, Crowder took on an outsize role in AFAM, which became recognized throughout campus, as students started referring to her as ‘Professor Debby.’ ”

• Nyang’oro: Called too demanding

“Nyang’oro initially undertook to conduct all of his independent studies in accordance with the traditional format and requirements, demanding regular student meetings and updates on their paper progress. Over time, however, he began to get complaints directly from Crowder and indirectly from the ... academic counselors about demanding too much from the student-athletes and requiring too many meetings. On one occasion, Crowder told him that the ASPSA [Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes] academic counselors believe he was ‘being an ass’ for demanding so much from the players and were rethinking whether they should be steering student-athletes to AFAM classes.”

• Crowder devises scheme

“In light of that push-back from the (academic) counselors, Crowder took it upon herself to improvise with AFAM’s independent study classes. She did so by designing an irregular independent study class that essentially took the professor out of the picture – substituting herself for the professor and substituting her standards for those that traditionally apply to independent studies.”

• Nyang’oro’s sympathy for athletes

“[Nyang’oro] acquiesced, in part, because he was happy to cede decision-making authority to [Crowder], especially since his busy consulting and personal schedule kept him away from campus for long periods of time. Beyond his practical interest in delegating responsibilities to Crowder, there was a more compassionate reason for Nyang’oro’s willingness to go along with Crowder’s irregular independent studies classes – he had developed his own sympathy for student-athletes and his own interest in helping them to remain eligible. According to Nyang’oro, he had taught two student-athletes early in his career who were later forced to leave the school because they had become academically ineligible. One of those student-athletes was murdered shortly after returning to his rural hometown; the other soon got in legal trouble and wound up in jail. When he learned about their fates, Nyang’oro committed himself to preventing such tragedies in the future and to helping other struggling students-athletes to stay in school.”

• Bifurcated classes

“In addition to those lecture-designated paper classes, the AFAM Department also developed a hybrid model that we call the ‘bifurcated classes.’ the bifurcated classes were lecture classes in which some of the enrolled students were expected to attend regular lectures and complete all assignments like any other lecture course, while others were exempted from those standard class requirements and were allowed to complete the class by simply turning in a paper, pursuant to the typical paper class process.

“We found that some students were selected for paper-class treatment because they were considered behavior problems in the classroom, while other were selected simply because they were student-athletes.”

• Classes were known by athletes

“It was common knowledge among student-athletes that it was the norm to receive an A or B in the paper classes, regardless of the quality of their submitted papers – an understanding that was borne out by the fact that grades in the paper classes were 10 percent higher than those awarded in the regular AFAM courses.”

• Counselors steered athletes

“The academic counselors in ASPSA were well aware that these courses existed, that they required relatively little work and that they generally resulted in high grades. For those reasons, some counselors routinely steered their student-athletes into these classes. They would identify those student-athletes who needed extra help to maintain their eligibility, steer those student-athletes toward the paper classes and then work closely with Crowder to register them. In football, for example, ASPSA Associate Director Cynthia Reynolds (‘Reynolds’) and her staff sent Crowder lists of players to be enrolled in paper classes each term, and in some cases apparently even indicated for Crowder the grade or grade range the player would need to earn in the class to maintain eligibility. In men’s basketball, academic counselor Burgess McSwain (‘McSwain’) and her successor Wayne Walden routinely called Crowder to arrange classes for their players.”

• Plagiarism

“There were instances in which students and student-athletes prepared papers that were largely ‘cut and paste’ jobs that simply copied text from publicly-available sources. Knowing that Crowder graded the papers and that she gave them only a light skim before assigning a grade, many paper class students and student-athletes would submit a paper with quality text in the introduction and conclusion and nothing but ‘fluff’ or largely unoriginal material in between.”

• Inappropriate help from tutors

“There were certain ASPSA tutors who crossed that line in assisting student-athletes with their papers for the paper classes. One example was a tutor for the football players, Jennifer Wiley. She started out on the right side of that line, helping to guide the players in the formulation of their papers without doing any drafting for them. After struggling with the challenged writing proficiency of many players, she eventually found herself actually drafting sections of papers for several of the struggling players.”

• A missed opportunity

“The only other questions about the AFAM classes were raised by Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Roberta ‘Bobbi’ Owen. In 2005 or 2006, Dean Owen had lunch with Nyang’oro and complained to him about the extremely high number of independent studies he was handling (sometimes more than 300 per academic year). She directed him to reduce that number and to ‘get [Crowder] under control,’ suggesting that Crowder was somehow behind the high numbers of independent studies in the AFAM Department. When Nyang’oro returned from lunch that day, he told Crowder that Owen was watching the independent studies enrollments and instructed her to scale them back. Crowder did as instructed, and the number of independent studies enrollments immediately went down. Owen noticed the decline in enrollments, and in November 2006 she sent Nyang’oro an email entitled ‘Ind Studies,’ noting that ‘it has gotten quieter from your side of campus,’ and conveying her thanks. … She never asked what sort of instruction Nyang’oro was actually providing to those hundreds of independent studies students registered under his name each year. … [B]y failing to follow up on her lunch-time admonition to Nyang’oro beyond her single email, Dean Owen missed the chance to put an end to these paper classes five years before their eventual discovery in 2011.”

• Crowder’s retirement

“In 2008, Crowder announced that she would retire the next year, and news of her impending retirement quickly spread throughout campus. Among the football counselors in ASPSA, there was a sobering recognition that Crowder’s retirement would mean an end to the courses they had relied upon to keep struggling student-athletes eligible. Those counselors quickly moved to mitigate the effect of this development. First, they urged all football players to submit their summer school papers in time to have them graded by Crowder. In one email to a football operations coordinator, Andre Williams, during the second summer session of 2009, Cynthia Reynolds, the Associate Director for ASPSA ... wrote that ‘Ms. Crowder is retiring at the end of July … if the guys papers are not in … I would expect D’s or C’s at best. Most need to be better than that.”

• Meeting with football coaches

“In that meeting, Beth Bridger (‘Bridger’) and Jaimie Lee (‘Lee’) of the ASPSA football counseling staff explained (1) that the AFAM paper classes had played a large role in keeping under-prepared and/or unmotivated football player eligible to play and (2) that these classes no longer existed. To emphasize those points, the counselors used the following slide in their presentation to the football coaches:

‘What was part of the solution in the past?

‘* We put them in classes that met degree requirements in which

— They didn’t go to class

— They didn’t take notes, have to stay awake

— They didn’t have to meet with professors

— They didn’t have to pay attention or necessarily engage with the material

‘* AFAM/AFRI SEMINAR COURSES

— 20-25 page papers on course topic

— THESE NO LONGER EXIST!’ ”

• Football players’ grades tumble

“The Fall 2009 semester – the first in over a decade without Crowder and her paper classes, resulted in the lowest football team GPA in ten years – 2.121. Forty-eight players earned a semester GPA of less than 2.0.”

• Nyang’oro continues classes

“In total, Nyang’oro offered six classes after Crowder’s retirement that had the elements of Crowder’s ‘paper classes,’ except for her grading of the term papers. Two of these were paper classes like the ones Crowder had offered and one was an independent study paper class with 13 football athletes. The other three were what we have called ‘bifurcated classes,’ which were essentially two classes within a single class roll – one set of students that attended class and completed it the traditional way and another set of students who completed the course as a paper class. The vast majority of those completing a bifurcated class as a paper class were student-athletes.”

• Grade changes in legitimate classes

“In Spring 2006, Professor Bereket Selassie taught a lecture class on North-East Africa, AFRI 124, with 25 enrolled students. At the end of the semester, Professor Selassie recorded a grade of AB (an incomplete grade that technically means ‘absent from the exam’) for a football player who never attended the lectures or the exam. When we asked Professor Selassie about this student, he was flabbergasted to see that the AB for that football player had been changed to an A- through a grade change form.

“We then interviewed both Crowder and the football player and learned that he was one of Crowder’s add-on students. She had placed the football player on Professor Selassie’s class roll, given him a paper topic and graded his paper. Crowder changed the grade from an AB to an A- using a grade change form and signed Nyang’oro’s name as instructor.”

• Purpose behind paper classes

“Unlike other classes, there was no pretense that these classes were intended in any meaningful way to educate students about the subject matter. It was clear to us that the overriding purpose of these classes was to serve as ‘GPA boosters’ (a term that tutor Jennifer Wiley said was used within ASPSA) that allowed students to remain in good academic and athletic standing.”

“The second distinguishing feature of these classes was the irrelevance of the quality of the student’s work to the grade awarded. Crowder admitted that she assigned high grades largely without paying attention to their quality, and Nyang’oro admitted that he similarly looked past the strength of the paper when he handled grading for the post-Crowder papers.”

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