Julius Nyang’Oro, the former chairman of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been charged with a felony count of obtaining property by false pretenses. The charge is exceptionally rare because it involves $12,000 that Nyang’Oro received for a summer course that he taught. While the course originally was meant to have regular classes, Nyang’Oro structured the class as an independent paper course. Notably, the university did not actually lose the $12,000 but recouped it in his final paycheck. Before his resignation in 2012, Nyang’Oro had a roughly $160,000 a year salary.
Prosecutors appear to be using the course as an avenue to punish Nyang’Oro for his role in the academic scandal at North Carolina over the use of questionable courses to help athletes maintain their grade point average. Not only did the scandal claim football coach Butch Davis and former chancellor, Holden Thorp, but the school has been hit with a one-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions. While the irregularities at the African studies department were not just limited to athletes, an investigation found 54 questionable classes.
Nyang’Oro resigned after the investigation found widespread fraudulent conduct from classes that were never taught to improper grade changes to fake faculty signatures.
However, the charge in this case could be brought against many academics who have courses that are different than they appear on the course booklet. Many faculty run paper courses that involve work with students individually rather than in regular class sessions. What is striking is that the articles do not say that the students did not complete the papers or work with Nyang’Oro. That course notably enrolled 18 football players and one former football player.
It could make for some interesting testimony as the practices of this university and other universities are raised by the defense, which will likely claim academic freedom in the structuring of classes and implied university consent for such changes. Few academics go back and change the description of courses with every change since it must often go through a committee and, if significant enough, could require a faculty vote. Of course, the news reports indicate a system with breathtaking examples of no-show classes and questionable grading. Such a system is rarely the result of one or two individuals. As we have seen with the Penn State scandal, there is often a culture that turns a blind eye to football and basketball programs that bring in huge amounts of revenue and alumni support.
Nyang’Oro holds B.A. in political science from the University of Dar es Salaam, a M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from Miami (Ohio) University; and a J.D. from Duke University.