CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — A lapse in student record-keeping on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s computer system led to the online release of a former football star’s grades, Chancellor Holden Thorp said Thursday, in explaining a disclosure that’s prompted new questions about special treatment for athletes at the elite public college.
Thorpe spoke to a UNC Board of Governors panel digging into academic fraud at the school after campus investigations found no-show classes, altered grades, and forged signatures in courses offered by the Department of African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM).
Thorpe said the school apologized to NFL player and former Tar Heels star Julius Peppers after his academic transcript was discovered on an unprotected part of the school’s data-storage system and reported by news organizations. The transcript shows Peppers got low grades in several courses, but likely remained eligible thanks to much better grades in AFAM classes.
Academic irregularities linked to the department and its former chairman going back five years sparked the scandal. Peppers’ transcript raised questions about whether football players were getting special treatment in classes when he was on campus more than a decade ago.
“I am determined that we will fix this and that it will never happen again. Nothing is more important than restoring confidence in this university that we all love,” Thorp said.
The computer breach happened because a university employee copied Peppers’ academic record in 2001, when he was a student. A second employee moved the file to an unsecured location during a technology migration in 2007, Thorp said. The first staff member has been disciplined and the second no longer works at the university, Thorp said.
The indication that questionable grades may have been issued well before the time covered in the campus probe of the AFAM department led to a broader investigation by former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin, a Davidson College professor.
Martin, working with a team of outside consultants, was on the Chapel Hill campus this week and will report to the Board of Governors panel about practices in other departments and earlier periods, said panel member W. Louis Bissette Jr., a business lawyer and former mayor of Asheville.
“I think Gov. Martin’s task is to look across the university to see if there were any issues similar to what existed in the African and Afro-American Studies program, particularly focused on athletics,” Bissette said.
New AFAM Chairwoman Eunice Sahle told the panel that the department for years was characterized by lax record-keeping and a top-down style that gave fellow faculty members little input into the courses they would teach. The department has addressed problems by expanding oversight on how student grades can be changed and limiting which students can take an independent study course, another problem area cited in the school’s probe of a lack of supervision of student work.
The department was headed for 14 years by Julius Nyang’oro, who was forced into retirement in July. Former football coach Butch Davis, who was fired in July 2011, denied steering players to take AFAM classes or ever meeting Nyang’oro.
The academic integrity problems were uncovered during an NCAA investigation that started in 2010 of gifts to football players by agents and others, said banking law professor Lissa Broome, the campus liaison with the college athletics sanctioning body.
“Please do not lose sight of the fact that we discovered the academic misconduct, self-reported it to the NCAA, and then thereafter undertook a joint investigation of that with the NCAA,” she said.
Broome assured the panel that faculty members want to ensure student-athletes perform well in the classroom and “there is no question about the integrity of their academic achievements.”
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