A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill whistleblower told school officials Tuesday that many students, most of them athletes, were taking classes that actually never occurred. Mary Willingham, an instructor and advisor, has become a key figure amid ongoing accusations and investigations of academic fraud at the school.
Ms. Willingham told UNC’s Faculty Athletics Committee the school was aware of a long-running scam to help some students meet the university’s academic requirements and remain eligible. She was one of the first people to speak out against the alleged practice, which occurred within the African and Afro-American Studies program.
An Orange County grand jury has indicted UNC-Chapel Hill African studies chairman Julius Nyang’oro on a felony charge for taking $12,000 for a class he did not teach in connection with the scandal. Dr. Nyang’oro pleaded not guilty last week.
The case is being investigated by Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall, who last May asked the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation to probe the African and Afro-American Studies program for evidence of academic, financial, and computer fraud, forgery, or conspiracy to conceal any crimes.
According to WTVD-TV Raleigh-Durham, the allegedly fictitious classes were popular with students and made up about 45 percent of enrollments. An official review conducted by the university “found 54 classes that had little or no indication of actual instruction,” WTVD-TV reported.
Dr. Nyang’oro stepped down from his chairmanship amid the investigations. He has since retired.
In her discussion with the Athletics Committee, Ms. Willingham offered suggestions on how to remedy a situation that finds athletes valuable to the university at risk of academic suspension for poor academic performance.
“I say that we should guarantee scholarships for six years,” Ms. Willngham told the committee. “It’s going to take longer to get some of these athletes through our university, if we’re honest with ourselves.”
According to WTVD-TV, Ms. Willingham said she worked with several students who were enrolled in classes that never took place. “She told the school about it and complained several times. Ultimately she switched to a different job at the university because nothing was being done about it,” WTVD-TV reported.