UNC awaits findings of Wainstein probe into academic fraud in department popular with athletes

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CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina — North Carolina has faced three years of questions about how academic fraud took place in a department popular with athletes.

Now, with the latest investigation complete, the school could have a chance to move forward or whether it will find even more problems to extend the long-running scandal.

"There's significant anticipation, more for the desire to get closure and clarity of the entire story than anything else," said Paul Friga, an associate professor in UNC's business school and a member of the school's faculty athletic committee.

The school hired former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein in February to look into the causes of fraud in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. He will present his findings to the school's board of trustees as well as the board of governors that oversee the state's public university system on Wednesday.

His report also comes amid a reopened NCAA investigation into academic misconduct, which grew as an offshoot of a 2010 investigation into the football program initially focused on improper benefits. It also comes after years of tension at UNC about balancing academics and big-time sports.

The topics have included literacy level of athletes, whether athletes being admitted to school were unable to handle college coursework, even the allegation by former men's basketball player Rashad McCants that tutors wrote papers for him while he led the Tar Heels to the 2005 NCAA championship.

"Yeah, people are fatigued," said French history professor Jay Smith, a critic of how the school has handled academics for athletes. "But I'm sorry, you're not permitted to be fatigued until you've got all the answers you need. That's not the responsible position to take in my opinion."

Wainstein's report comes about two years after one by former Gov. Jim Martin that found problems in the department dating to the 1990s, including lecture classes that didn't meet and were instead treated as independent studies requiring a research paper at semester's end.

Martin's report, along with a previous university inquiry, directed blame at former chairman Julius Nyang'oro and retired administrator Deborah Crowder. Neither had cooperated with earlier school investigations but have both met with Wainstein several times.

Wainstein has also shared information with the NCAA, which jointly investigated the AFAM problems with the school in fall 2011. The NCAA reopened its case in June, saying there was new information available.

The school has said it has implemented numerous reforms, down to spot checks of classes to ensure they're meeting as intended. In addition, athletic director Bubba Cunningham and provost James W. Dean Jr., are leading a group that is examining policies regarding athletes from academic support to NCAA rule compliance.

Cunningham said that group, launched in August 2013, should complete its work in the spring.

"I think we've done some really good things the last couple of years," said Joy Renner, an associate professor in radiologic science and chairwoman of the faculty athletic committee. "But how do I know until I know the complete picture? And I'm hoping this will finish giving us the complete picture."


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