UNC Classes Were Legit, Former Dept. Manager Says

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Copyright 2017 The Durham Herald Co.
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The Herald-Sun (Durham, N.C.)


CHAPEL HILL -- With UNC-Chapel Hill potentially facing major NCAA sanctions over scores of classes that never met, one of the key figures in the paper class scandal said in an affidavit released Thursday that the classes were legitimate and not created to specifically help athletes.

Deborah Crowder, a former department manager for the African and Afro-American Studies department, called the classes "customized educational opportunities for students to solve problems created by the institutional bureaucracy."

"That is what these courses were about -- they were about educating students, irrespective of whether they were athletes; all students were treated equal," she said in the affidavit.

Crowder's affidavit was obtained and first reported by Inside Carolina, a fan site that covers UNC sports. It comes just days before UNC is to respond to a third notice of allegations from the NCAA that accuses the university of lack of institutional control and providing impermissible academic benefits to athletes, particularly in the revenue sports of football and men's basketball. The allegations also accuse Crowder and Julius Nyang'oro, the former chairman of the AFAM department of unethical conduct for creating the classes and making them available to athletes.

Crowder and Nyang'oro are also accused of not cooperating with the NCAA's investigation, as the NCAA said neither consented to interviews. Crowder's attorney, Elliot Abrams, in a letter to the head of the NCAA's enforcement staff, called her affidavit a "first step" in cooperating with the NCAA's investigation.

"Ms. Crowder has decided to respond and potentially to cooperate with the NCAA's investigation in order to stand up for the thousands of those students -- athletes and non-athletes alike -- whose reputations have been harmed and whose degrees have been devalued based on these false allegations," Abrams wrote.

Crowder, who retired in 2009 after 30 years as a clerical employee in the AFAM department, had not cooperated with UNC's internal investigation in 2011, or a second led by former Gov. Jim Martin the following year. In 2014, she cooperated with former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein's investigation, as part of an agreement with Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall to end a criminal investigation into the classes.

Wainstein's report, released in October 2014, found the classes began in 1993 with Crowder first creating independent studies courses that had no professor. Several years later, she began disguising them as lecture-style classes, the report said.

His report identified 189 lecture classes that never met. Roughly 1,300 students took independent studies that had no instructor. All told, 3,100 students - half of them athletes - had enrolled in at least one class over an 18-year period.

Wainstein reported that several counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes knew Crowder was creating the classes and grading the papers. In her affidavit, she said Nyang'oro first offered the classes and graded the papers, but she took over grading them because Nyang'oro was busy traveling.

The Southern Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Colleges, which accredits UNC, found the classes to be in violation of several standards and called them fraudulent. In 2015, it placed UNC on probation for a year, the most serious sanction short of pulling accreditation.

Joel Curran, UNC's vice chancellor of university communications, said he did not learn of Crowder's affidavit until Thursday. He said he couldn't comment on the substance of her written statement.

"We are grateful that she is offering information directly to the NCAA," he said.

Woodall said he was unaware of Crowder's affidavit and her attorney's letter to the NCAA, and said he could not look into them until he finishes a murder trial that is likely to run through next week.

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March 11, 2017


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