Professors in Classroom on Time? Check.

- Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Faculty
January 6, 2014

Professors in Class on Time? Check.
At the U. of North Carolina, a culture of autonomy falls victim to one department's no-show scandal
By Lindsay Ellis and Robin Wilson Chapel Hill, N.C.

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everly Foster moved from classroom to classroom last spring, slipping into the back, unannounced, and jotting

down notes about what she heard and saw. Students taking test. Class presentation. Professor lecturing. Ms. Foster, director of undergraduate education at the University of North Carolina's School of Nursing here, then forwarded her observations to top administrators at the university. Other of!cials made similar classroom visits campuswide. In the College of Arts and Sciences alone they covered 430 courses, or almost 10 percent of those offered last spring and this fall. If a class didn't meet as scheduled, of!cials followed up with a department head to ask why. Such spot-checks are unheard of on college campuses, especially at a prestigious public research university like Chapel Hill. They are among the changes the "agship campus has adopted in the wake of the most egregious case of academic fraud ever committed at the university. The academic improprieties, in which professors' signatures were forged to change students' grades and undergraduates got credit for courses that never met, went undetected for nearly 15 years within the African- and Afro-American-studies department. The university says the fraud appears to be the work of a longtime administrator in the department and its chairman, Julius E. Nyang'oro, who led African-American studies here for nearly two decades. Many of the students who were involved in the questionable classes were athletes.

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

The fraud has served as a wake-up call about the potential dangers surrounding the hallmarks of the faculty work culture. Autonomy and "exibility may be key to maintaining academic freedom, but they can also lead to abuse. James G. Martin, a former governor of North Carolina who was asked by the campus's Board of Trustees to conduct an extensive investigation into the fraud, told the board in his report: "The mutual mantra (the Inverse Golden Rule of Academia) is: I won't question how you teach and grade your courses, if you won't question mine." Administrators characterize what happened here as an isolated episode that involved just one of 3,665 full-time faculty members. But the academic changes that the university has pushed through in the aftermath have reverberated through classrooms and faculty of!ces across the campus. The changes attempt to limit the largely unchecked authority that professors have had in performing their jobs, and to make sure that such an embarrassment cannot recur. The scandal still haunts the university, even though Mr. Nyang'oro, who was indicted last month on fraud charges in a county district court, has departed. His defense attorney has said he plans to plead not guilty. Professors at North Carolina say colleagues at other institutions continue to ask how such large-scale fraud could have gone on for so long at an elite institution. "What's sobering," says Jonathan D. Weiler, a faculty adviser in global studies at Chapel Hill, "is that we were capable of much more systematic cheating than I had previously naïvely thought."

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rofessors here say it was in part because of the university's high-caliber academic reputation that an apparently

dishonest faculty member operated in their midst for so long. They note that Chapel Hill—which before the Nyang'oro episode had not been accused of a major violation of NCAA rules in 50 years—had managed to strike the right mix between academics and athletics, making it seem immune to the kind of classroom scandals that have plagued other universities with big-time sports

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

programs. "There is a real culture at UNC of being proud of what that institution stands for as a really strong public university," says Laurie F. Maf"y-Kipp, head of the religious-studies department until she joined Washington University in St. Louis this academic year as a distinguished professor of humanities. She was part of a small group of Chapel Hill faculty members who led one of the university's analyses of the scandal. Just like other professors here, Mr. Nyang'oro was assumed by his colleagues to be part of what one faculty member here calls the "honorable fraternity" of scholars who upheld the university's high standards. He came to North Carolina in 1984 as a visiting assistant professor after earning a Ph.D. in political science from Miami University in Ohio and a law degree from Duke University. By 1992 he had become an associate professor and been named chair of the program in African and Afro-American studies. It achieved departmental status in 1997, and Mr. Nyang'oro continued on as chairman. Like other department heads at Chapel Hill, he was reappointed by administrators to the job every !ve years without going through the usual posttenure review required of other tenured faculty members. Professors at other universities say it is odd for a chairman to continue serving without receiving a more-thorough review. While practices across higher education and even within universities vary widely, scholars say they believe that department leaders on most campuses are scrutinized more closely both by their own colleagues and by administrators than Mr. Nyang'oro was. "I !nd it strange that they have a posttenure review for all faculty but exempted the chairs," says Henry Reichman, who heads the American Association of University Professors' Committee on Academic Freedom. He is a professor emeritus of history at California State University-East Bay. "The department as a whole should be looking at the chair," he says, "and so should the administration."

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Professors here say that, in retrospect, some of Mr. Nyang'oro's behavior should have raised red "ags. His scholarly work explores economic and political developments in Africa, and he traveled there frequently, so that he often was absent from the campus and uninvolved in university business. One former dean told The Chronicle that his of!ce had emailed Mr. Nyang'oro several times without response, asking him to submit syllabi for a universitywide curricular review. Though the course material eventually trickled in, it was too late to be included in the rollout of a new curriculum. At an event to promote his 2010 biography of Tanzania's president, JK: A Political Biography of Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete (Africa World Press), Mr. Nyang'oro's wife mentioned her husband's work away from home, calling him the family's "most frequent guest." Yet, according to a later analysis included in Governor Martin's report, Mr. Nyang'oro was routinely scheduled to teach 10 to 15 courses per year, including summer sessions. Academic irregularities in the department began to surface publicly in July 2011, primarily because of attention from the news media. A former football player whom the NCAA had ruled ineligible for improperly accepting a tutor's assistance in formatting citations for a class paper !led a lawsuit against both the NCAA and the university. He included the class paper, for a course in intermediate Swahili, in his legal proceedings. On blogs and message boards geared toward rival sports teams, readers picked apart the assignment and found that large chunks resembled published works. Although Mr. Nyang'oro is listed as the professor on the paper's title page, he has denied ever teaching the course. As questions surrounding Mr. Nyang'oro's teaching and grading continued to arise, he resigned as department chairman in August 2011. The investigation by Mr. Martin showed that 216 courses, enrolling more than 4,000 students, were anomalous or potentially problematic. In some instances, professors denied ever teaching the courses and assigning the grades that students received. In others, Mr. Nyang'oro was listed as the instructor of a lecture-style

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

course, but the class had never met and required only that students turn in a paper to pass. The report, issued in December 2012, also said the department had offered an inordinately high number of independent-study courses: 1,760 from 2001-2 through 2010-11, or 176 per year. And investigators found more than 500 cases in which they suspected that students' grades had been changed without the authorization of the professor listed as instructor.

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any people here and elsewhere have questioned how Mr. Nyang'oro and Deborah Crowder, the former department

manager, could have engaged in such large-scale improprieties without drawing suspicion of others in African and Afro-American studies. (The Chronicle was unable to contact Ms. Crowder, who retired in 2009 and has not yet faced legal charges.) Didn't any of their colleagues hear students talking about the department's easy courses and independent studies? Evelyne Huber, a professor of political science here, was named interim chair of the department in 2011, after Mr. Nyang'oro resigned. In an interview with The Chronicle, she said she had quickly learned that faculty members in the department had long felt disaffected and were unhappy with Mr. Nyang'oro's leadership. Rather than involve others in departmental decisions, he made all of them himself, she says: "They were employees of a department with a dictatorial chair." Mr. Nyang'oro did not return several telephone calls from The Chronicle asking for comment. None of the department's 15 tenured and tenure-track professors would speak with The Chronicle, although university of!cials say the professors have said they had no knowledge of the apparent fraud within their department. Eunice Sahle, an associate professor who took over as chair in 2012, has presided over a restructuring that changed the name of the department to African, African American, and Diaspora Studies and broadened its curriculum.

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

"They talk about it as the refounding of their department," says Jonathan Hartlyn, who oversees the department as senior associate dean for social sciences and global programs in the College of Arts and Sciences. The department has also adopted safeguards, requiring professors to submit detailed syllabi to the department's new director of undergraduate studies. It has created learning contracts for independent-study classes and now allows grade changes to be monitored via an electronic system. (Before this fall, all grade changes were made on paper.) The department has also established committees to give all of its professors a say in how it operates. Some of those safeguards are commonplace on other campuses and even elsewhere at Chapel Hill. Many professors prepare detailed syllabi, and most academic departments have internal committees that allow various professors to handle tasks rather than cede all authority to the department head, as was the case in the department here. When Chronicle reporters stopped by her of!ce, in Battle Hall, in November, Ms. Sahle said she couldn't speak with them "without a mandate from the department's faculty," who she said had "been through a lot." In testimony before the university system's Board of Governors in August 2012, she pledged that the unethical practices "will never occur again in our unit." Some scholars outside of Chapel Hill say it's understandable that professors in the African-American-studies department might have been unaware of fraud going on around them. Sundiata Cha-Jua is president of the National Council for Black Studies and an associate professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He says he has spoken with a couple of faculty members in his discipline at Chapel Hill since the scandal broke. "If you don't have a robust democratic culture in a department," he says, "things break down and people get the attitude: I'll do my research, I'll teach my classes, then I'm out of the of!ce. I'm not

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

hanging around." Professors of African and Afro-American studies at Chapel Hill, he says, have felt under siege and embarrassed by the improprieties, worrying that they might discredit not just their department but also their whole !eld. "Despite 40-plus years in academia, there is still a stigma attached to the discipline," Mr. Cha-Jua says. "The reality is that AfricanAmerican studies is tolerated as a political concession but not as a place where new knowledge is produced the way it's produced in traditional academic disciplines." Any problems, he adds, "always rebound disproportionately against the discipline."

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cheat.

o one at Chapel Hill seems to have contemplated the kind of widespread fraud Mr. Nyang'oro is accused of

committing. The extent of the alleged abuse is unusual, professors say, regardless of how much autonomy faculty members enjoy. And people here and at other universities say it may be impossible to put enough checks in place to stop someone who wants to

"It didn't occur to us that someone in a leadership role would take advantage," says James W. Dean, Chapel Hill's provost. But the fact that the improprieties involved so many students and courses over so many years points to evidence of lax administrative controls, some outsiders say. A review panel appointed by the Board of Governors to examine the university's response to the fraud blamed "imperfect institutional processes and systems" for the failure to "discover and put a halt" to the fraud, according to a university report. Burley B. Mitchell Jr., a retired chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and now a lawyer in Raleigh, sat on the Board of Governors until June. "The whole story here about how it was just two employees at fault, the chairman and the department manager, isn't true and never has been," he says. "There was no

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

oversight at the university. It should be obvious to anyone that the department of African-American studies was utterly without any supervision by anybody." Mr. Nyang'oro remained chairman, !rst of the curriculum and then of the department, for so long in part because he was willing to do a job that not many faculty members want, administrators here acknowledge. "When you !nd someone who wants to stay in a chair's position, you keep them on," says Mr. Dean. "There was nothing about that situation that seemed particularly odd to anyone, and no reason to look at it." Department heads here are now subject to posttenure review every !ve years, just like every other tenured professor. In addition to the campuswide classroom visits, the university also checks the legitimacy of classes in which more than 20 percent of the students who enroll are athletes. "I was contacted by a dean who asked if I was aware that three or four of 85 history classes had large numbers of athletes," says Lloyd S. Kramer who stepped down as chair of history in June. The dean called him, he says, to ask about courses offered this past spring. "I looked at the syllabi and I con!rmed that these were rigorous courses being taught," says Mr. Kramer. In 2010 the university computerized its grading system, which now allows it to limit and track who submits grades and who changes them. During most of Mr. Nyang'oro's tenure as chairman, the process was done on paper, which professors say made it easy to forge signatures. Faculty members say they understand the need for many of the new rules. And some changes, including the new computerized grading system, are long overdue, they say. Professors here have been most offended by the classroom spot-checks, calling them "embarrassing" and "insulting." The provost himself bemoans the classroom intrusions. "It's a precedent that's heartbreaking," he says, "but we had to do it to make sure it didn't happen again."

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

It may be dif!cult for those outside academe to understand professors' sensitivity to monitoring that might not seem unusual to many American workers. But that's because faculty members are not traditional employees, responsible for discrete tasks and answerable to bosses from 9 to 5. "We trust everybody, and you assume everyone is doing what they're supposed to be doing," says Jan Boxill, a senior lecturer in philosophy, director of the university's Parr Center for Ethics, and chair of the university's Faculty Council. Faculty members aren't used to looking over one another's shoulders, much less checking on their department heads, she says. Professors often come to the campus to teach their courses and then leave, doing their research and writing someplace else. "If I have to visit one of my colleagues," Ms. Boxill says, "I have to look up the of!ce number." Flexibility is understood to be a central perk of faculty life. "If I can't work at home, why did I go into such a low-paying line of work?" asks Frank Donoghue, a professor of English at Ohio State University who writes about academic life. "This is a very different kind of job than most people have." Mr. Reichman, the AAUP committee chair, says the changes that Chapel Hill has made sound sensible and shouldn't threaten professors' overall autonomy, as long as they are made with faculty input. "I see no reason to object," he says. Ms. Maf"y-Kipp, the Chapel Hill professor who is now at Washington University in St. Louis, agrees that systems of accountability are wise, particularly at large universities, where it may be easier for professors' bad behavior to go unnoticed. But the institutions must maintain a delicate balance, she says. "You need common standards, but you want people to be able to work freely and not be micromanaged," Ms. Maf"y-Kipp says. "You don't want everyone to feel watched all the time." Even critics like Mr. Mitchell, the former chief justice who served

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

on the Board of Governors, says no one wants universities to operate like businesses. "Higher education is intended to be a much more relaxed system than you'd !nd in industry and even in government, and that is understandable," he says. "It is important that faculty and deans and everyone else have a lot of elbow room. They are engaged in academic inquiry, and we really don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater." Jay M. Smith, a history professor here, says that with the scandal still so recent, professors may have to change. "As the guardians of the university curriculum, I worry that we are so trusting and so committed to the principle of faculty autonomy that we have been reluctant to look at the teaching practices of our colleagues," says Mr. Smith. "It has made me wonder about our capacity for self-policing and self-correction."

An Unwatched Department Goes Off Track
Academic fraud within the department of African and Afro-American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill went undetected for nearly 15 years. The university says the fraud appears to be the work of a rogue chairman, who led the program for almost two decades, and one of his staff members. July 1992 Julius E. Nyang'oro is named chair of African and Afro-American studies. July 1997 African and Afro-American studies achieves department status; Mr. Nyang'oro continues as chair. Fall 1997 Problematic courses in the department begin. From 1997 to 2011, more than 200 courses have proven or potential problems, affecting more than 4,000 students. The problems include lecture courses that did not meet and simply required a term paper for

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

credit, and independent-study projects created without the knowledge of instructors of record. The university also suspects that someone changed more than 500 grades without a supervising professor's permission. 2001 Many students in the department are scheduled for independent studies. A total of 1,760 signed up for those studies by the end of the 2010-11 academic year. 2002 Mr. Nyang'oro is reappointed to a second term as department chair. 2007 Mr. Nyang'oro is reappointed to a third term as department chair. September 2009 Deborah Crowder, who worked in the department in various positions since 1979, retires as department manager. The number of apparently fraudulent courses and grade changes then begins to drop. June 21, 2010 The NCAA begins investigating the university's football program, including allegations of players' receiving improper academic bene!ts. (Nine major violations of NCAA rules are eventually found.) June 2011 "Blacks in North Carolina," a lecture course with Mr. Nyang'oro listed as professor, does not meet as scheduled over the summer session. Of the 19 students enrolled, 18 are football players and one is a former player. July 2011 A Chapel Hill football player whom the NCAA had ruled ineligible, for accepting improper academic help, !les a lawsuit against the association and the university. He includes the paper on which he

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

was ruled to have accepted help, which is about Swahili culture, and lists Mr. Nyang'oro as the instructor. Online message boards popular among rival football fans pick apart the paper, pointing out large chunks that appear to be plagiarized. August 30, 2011 Mr. Nyang'oro resigns as chair as the university begins to investigate the department. Fall 2011 The department begins to standardize the forms that professors use to submit grade changes. New rules also go into effect governing how temporary grades can be used and how independent studies are approved. January 1, 2012 Eunice Sahle becomes department chair. May 2, 2012 Jonathan Hartlyn and William L. Andrews, senior associate deans, publish an analysis of all courses offered by the department from the !rst summer session in 2007 through the second summer session in 2011. They !nd that nine out of 616 had no evidence of faculty supervision or grading. Mr. Nyang'oro is tied to more than 40 other problematic courses, including some with "limited or no classroom or other instructional contact with students." July 1, 2012 Mr. Nyang'oro retires from his tenured position on the faculty. September 17, 2012 H. Holden Thorp, chancellor at Chapel Hill, after a series of controversies, announces that he will resign at the end of the academic year. December 20, 2012 James G. Martin, a former governor of North Carolina, presents his extensive report on academic fraud in the department to the Board of Trustees. He writes, "The mutual mantra (the Inverse Golden

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Rule of Academia) is: I won't question how you teach and grade your courses, if you won't question mine." Spring 2013 Spot checks of classrooms, in which monitors make surprise visits to make sure that courses are actually meeting, begin across the campus. May 2013 The university announces that it will provide classes at no cost to students and alumni who were enrolled in the 39 courses con!rmed to have never met during the period from fall 1997 through summer 2009. June 20, 2013 Accreditors from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools tell Chapel Hill of their decision to monitor but not penalize the institution. December 2, 2013 Mr. Nyang'oro is indicted for accepting $12,000 from the university for the "Blacks in North Carolina" course. —Lindsay Ellis

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Oldest Community aloofbooks
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"By 1992 he had become an associate professor and been named chair of the program in African and Afro-American studies. It achieved departmental status in 1997, and Mr. Nyang'oro continued on as chairman" Professor Nyang'oro was chair of the department from 1992 to 2011?!!!! That's was part of the problem there. How can anyone be an e"ective chair for such a long time? Even without the scandal, the department was bound to stagnate due to this fact alone.
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valleyguy1234

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aloofbooks

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4 days ago

It sounds like no one else wanted the job, so of course they kept him on. crazy.
2 mikeklymkowsky
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5 days ago

I have concerns that this is a not uncommon situation among "star" faculty (although perhaps rarely as egregious). It comes from an almost complete ignorance about what is actually taught and learned in a specific course (or curriculum). see: http://biofundamentalist.blogs...
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Donald Tomaskovic-Devey

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4 days ago

The article focuses on the autonomy of academics, but neglects to note that there are two other o#ces clearly implicated. The athletic department must have known about the opportunities in these courses and the registrar must have processed all of these grade changes.
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collegeeducator

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Donald Tomaskovic-Devey

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4 days ago

Agreed about the omission of the athletic department. With such a comprehensive article, why did the writers fail to mention the unit responsible for many of the customers for the courses? Did they interview any of the advisors or even coaches? Which sports had the highest use rates of the courses?
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panacea

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collegeeducator

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3 days ago

Basketball and football. I live in North Carolina and have been watching this case since the whistle was blown.
5 Jason JB Bailey
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Donald Tomaskovic-Devey

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2 days ago

Great point Donald.
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11144703 8

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4 days ago

Lindsay Ellis and Robin Wilson: superb article by you guys--wow.
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englishwlu

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4 days ago

Wouldn't the University Registrar have noticed the huge number of grades attributed to a single department and/or professor? That's what mystifies me

Professors in Classroom on Time? Check. - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education

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