The trail of evidence surrounding North Carolina's academic scandal continues to grow.
The school's internal investigation has whimpered out, and the NCAA has slowly taken its time fleshing out its own multi-stage probe. But now comes something of a shell in this case. Over the weekend, the Raleigh News & Observer released emails that it obtained more than a year after an open-records request. Those emails are embedded at the bottom of this post.
The emails in question shed light on the nature of the relationship between academic advisors and Julius Nyang'oro. He is the former chair of UNC's African studies program, the wing of academics at the school that received allegations of phony courses and manipulated grades.
The emails show Nyang'oro to be the benefactor of perks from the advisors, including offerings of standing on the sideline at football games and tickets for Tar Heels football as well.
None of these emails were found in the independent investigation (PDF report here) run by former North Carolina governor Jim Martin. Martin's report stated the problem of grade changes (more than 450) and phony signatures wasn't limited to just athletes, but the student body in general. It's because of that report that UNC has deemed the problem academic in nature and not one that was specifically helping UNC players take phony courses in order to remain eligible to compete.
One of the emails shows an associate director of academic support, Cynthia Reynolds, writing this to Nyang'oro: “I hear you are doing me a big favor this semester and that I should be bringing you lots of gifts and cash??????? :)" The email is from Sept. 11, 2009. The favor in question is unknown.
Another email shows Nyang'oro and Jaimie Lee, who was an academic counselor for athletes, having this exchange (via the N&O's story):
“I failed to mention yesterday that Swahili 403 last summer was offered as a research paper course,” wrote Lee, who was helping football players at the time. “I meant to (ask), do you think this may happen again in the future?? If not the summer, maybe the fall?”
Nyang'oro responded: “Driving a hard bargain; should have known…..:)Will have to think about this, but talk to me….”
Nyang'oro did not schedule the Swahili class, but he did create another one for the summer. Later that day, he emailed Lee: “I have added AFAM 398 to our Summer Schedule….:).”
Lee responded with a similar emoticon: “:-) thanks! I appreciate that
The emails don't support Martin's general findings, that students on the whole were benefiting from Nyang'oro, and former department manager Debbie Crowder's arrangements in African studies courses lend further credibility to the idea that athletes accounted for a significant percentage of those who were helped. According to the News & Observer, 45 percent of the students in the courses in question were athletes, and the average grade in the classes was "nearly an A-minus."
Madeline Levine, who was interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences (that oversaw the African studies program) in 2006 at North Carolina, called the emails indicative of a culture that was "academically corrupt."
Crowder retired in 2009. Nyang'oro retired in July of 2012. NCAA president Mark Emmert said last fall UNC could face punishment for this case, but none has been levied thus far, most likely due to the widespread nature of the academic fraud. When athletes aren't perceived to specifically benefit from a cheating scandal, the NCAA is less likely to wade into the case.