Top 10 stories of 2012: No. 1

Scandal plagues the university
Dec. 31, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

For UNC, 2012 was probably one of the most difficult in its storied history.
The state’s flagship university was stung by academic scandals involving athletes that soiled its once pristine reputation, and led popular Chancellor Holden Thorp to announce in September that he will resign in June 2013 to return to the faculty.
And if the academic scandal were not enough, the university also saw Matt Kupec, its chief fundraiser, resign amid an investigation into his misuse of gift money.
Kupec and Tami Hansbrough, the former major gifts officer and mother of former UNC basketball star Tyler Hansbrough and former Notre Dame standout Ben Hansbrough, faced charges of taking numerous personal trips paid for with UNC money.
A university audit uncovered that Kupec spent more than $16,000 on personal trips.       
But it was the academic scandal involving athletes that shook UNC to its ethical core.
Much of the university’s trouble stemmed from “serious anomalies” in the way courses were taught in the school’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM).
More specifically, an internal investigation found 54 courses from first summer session 2007 through the final summer session 2011 in which students completed work and received grades without courses being supervised, courses designed to include regular classroom time, but offered little to no classroom time, questionable grade changes and independent study courses without appropriate study plans.
And then UNC’s troubles worsened when the transcript of former UNC football star and basketball player Julius Peppers, who attended the university from 1998 to 2002, was inadvertently made public on a university website, revealing that Peppers earned good grades in African studies classes but performed poorly in many of his other classes.
Because the university’s own investigation didn’t cover years prior to 2007, critics of the internal investigation who complained it did not go back far enough, renewed calls for an independent review that would look into possible irregularities before 2007.
So, Thorp tapped former Gov. Jim Martin to conduct the internal investigation, and his report released Dec. 20 found that course irregularities in AFAM dates to at least 2007.
Martin’s four-month review of the department, which he shared at a Dec. 20 meeting of the Board of Trustees, identified 216 courses with “proven or potential anomalies” and 454 suspected unauthorized grade changes in the department.
“Today, we can’t run away from what we’ve learned,” Thorp said during that meeting.
The good news for UNC was that Martin’s review found no other such irregularities outside the AFAM department.
Martin’s report, as did UNC’s internal report, laid the blame for the troubles in the department on former department chairman Julius Nyang’oro and former department assistant Debbie Crowder, who retired in 2009.
“Within AFRI/AFAM, no other faculty member was involved culpably or unethically, other than Chairman Nyang’oro and Administrator Crowder,” Martin said.
Thorp has implemented new internal controls to try to prevent any recurrence of the irregularities that has sullied the name of the institution he called “the most important institution in my life.”
“We made mistakes in the past. We were complacent,” Thorp said. “We didn’t ask the hard questions that we should have asked. And we didn’t live up to our reputation.”
UNC system President Tom Ross has appointed a committee composed of members of the UNC Board of Governors to also look into the embarrassing affairs at UNC.
The Academic Review Panel of the UNC Board of Governors, as it is called, is expected to deliver its report in early 2013.


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1. UNC marred by scandal