Monday, November 10, 2014

UNC Fraud Was Epic…And Typical



By Professor Doom

     The UNC “Paper Class” scam is all over the news, and the full report is even online now. I assert that UNC isn’t really all that special with their scam.

     Administration at UNC, by the way, agrees with me, and their defense (among other defenses, I admit) is that everyone does the types of things UNC does. I know better than to trust admin at their word, but my own eyes at half a dozen institutions over the course of the last 25 years confirms what they say. 

     Let’s hit some of the report’s highlights of the hijinx at UNC:

“…When Crowder retired from the University in 2009 and she was no longer in position to arrange these classes, under-prepared students and student-athletes began to struggle to maintain academic eligibility. At the request of ASPSA football counselors, …”

     UNC’s main claim is it was a rogue professor responsible for all the fraud, but the report makes it very clear that this professor was just following along in the tradition of Crowder, who was coordinating the scam for at least a decade previous.

     This “welcome the new boss, same as the old boss” is typical of higher education. No matter how vile the old boss is, the new boss never really seems to be any different. What’s particularly interesting is if the old boss is a female administrator, the new boss is female, but never the other way around, with this time being an special exception. I’m rather curious, if the trend continues for a full generation, if anyone will notice something’s not quite right about that…

It was only when media reports raised questions about AFAM classes in 2011 that administration officials took a hard look at the AFAM Department. They were shocked with what they found. 


     The report is being very, very, kind here. As I discussed before, admin totally knew about the scam, because administration doesn’t usually allow courses with small enrollments, much less thousands of courses with enrollments of a single student. I would imagine some 99% of my readers over the age of 30 never took (or had even heard of) single student, “independent study” courses in their undergraduate career—they’re more common in graduate school, where topics can get extremely specialized. I have to specify “over the age of 30”, because the fraud of higher education really has only sprung up in the last ten years or more. Not all the “paper classes” were independent study but enough of them were that red flags would have been raised if legitimacy were a concern.

     Anyway, administration knew about the fraud, was probably informed by other faculty many times…and admin told faculty to pound sand (that’s what I was told whenever I pointed out lack of integrity at my schools, after all). Note what the report says: only after the media raised reports did UNC administration finally decide, reluctantly, to “look into it.”


Between 1993 and 2011, Crowder and Nyang’oro developed and ran a
“shadow curriculum” within the AFAM Department that provided students
with academically flawed instruction through the offering of “paper classes.” 


     The “shadow curriculum” referenced here is in many institutions. It may not be paper classes, but certain departments (eg, Education, Gender Studies, Multiculturalism Studies) are loaded down with courses that are every bit as light as any paper course. At the university level, it’s a “two tier” system of legitimate classes and fake classes, while at the community college level, pretty much all pretense of higher education is abandoned.

Student-athletes accounted for a disproportionately high percentage of enrollments in the AFAM paper classes. Of the identifiable enrollments in the lecture paper classes, 47.4% were student-athletes,


     Chalk another mark up for (reluctant) honesty of UNC administration. UNC claimed any student could take these fake courses, so that the NCAA couldn’t claim that student (sic) athletes were getting preferential treatment. Now, I want to point out here: there is absolutely no reason to believe the paper classes are the only academic fraud going on at UNC. We only know about the paper classes because, after over five years of denials, the evidence was overwhelming. Admin fought tooth and nail to cover up this fraud; it’s a safe bet other frauds, without years of scrutiny, have been buried.

     I have been at schools where the parking lots have seven cars in them—specifically that number!--when, supposedly, classes were in session for hundreds of enrolled students (and yet admin doesn’t seem to see a problem with that…). I have seen professors literally cancel over half the classes in a semester, give no assignments, and award A’s to all students…and admin PRAISED the professor for such fine teaching. I have seen professors put in writing what their course covers…and cover so little material in the actual class that it wasn’t defensible to call it a college course (one professor’s calculus course had no discussion of the concept of “derivative” for example, even with a syllabus that went up to basic integration). I’ve seen professors give over 50% of course grade via extra credit, making it all but impossible to score less than an A for any student that remotely tries.

     And I’ve seen admin not care in the slightest about any of that.

     I’m not a monster, by the way, I’d love for all students to get A’s. But these students are paying a fortune and spending years of their lives…if the material in the course is so trivial that everyone can get an A without doing anything, I honestly believe that fraud, on multiple levels, is being committed.
    
     I’ve seen fraud, after fraud, after fraud, and for years. I collegially, politely, patiently, asked for administration to do something about it, for years, documenting it, putting in writing, and filling out all the appropriate forms as per due process. Always, I was chastised, and I’d see the fraudsters get praise for their “work”. And then I’d be punished for actually doing what my teaching contract said I’d do.

     Sometimes I was told the fraudulent behavior was excused because of “best practices”, which is basically what UNC is saying: everyone commits this fraud, so that makes it fine.

     Because of their many, many, lies, UNC isn’t being believed, but I’m here to say: while “everyone does it” might be an exaggeration, it’s safe to say the vast majority do. More importantly, it’s perfectly safe say that neither accreditation nor administration has any interest in stopping it.
    
     Let’s look at a few snippets from the report:

Several administrators were aware of red flags about potential irregularities in AFAM but took little or no action to inquire about them. For example, one administrator became aware in 2005 or 2006 that Nyang’oro was routinely listed as the instructor-of-record for a number of independent studies – approximately 300 per year – that was clearly well beyond what any professor could physically handle.

     The report only says what it can prove, so, “several administrators” knew…it’s still more than just one rogue professor. 300 individual study courses are more than a professor can physically handle? That’s a funny thing to say, since college classes can easily have 1,000 students now. I have over 400 students a year in my courses (over both semesters), to put this in perspective. I'd  love to go back to the years when half that many students was normal.

“…All courses for which Nyang’oro was instructor of record during his career at UNC (from 1984 through 2012)…”
--the instructor of record is the guy who gets the check. There’s a money trail here, honest.


     Has anyone thought to ask about the professor’s pay? I mean, if he’s really getting paid as individual courses, then he was making a fortune here (over half a million a year, anyway). Maybe if someone follows the money, we can get a clearer picture of administrative involvement in the fraud. Whatever the pay, realize that the professor’s paycheck (with 300 separate notations) had to have been set up, printed, and signed off on by quite a few administrators before the professor, or the alleged “original scammer” got it. My checks, for a basic semester, go through five administrators a semester, for example.

     And, realize, this scam went on for over 18 years…just the paychecks alone would require dozens of administrators to “look the other way” about the scam going on here.

     So, yeah, follow the money.

“We found no evidence that the higher levels of the University tried in any
way to obscure the facts or the magnitude of this situation. To the extent
there were times of delay or equivocation in their response to this
controversy, we largely attribute that to insufficient appreciation of the scale
of the problem, an understandable lack of experience with this sort of
institutional crisis…”

      Wait, what? How many Chief Financial Officers did UNC have over the last 18 years? The CFO is absolutely “higher levels of the University”, and the report’s saying there’s no evidence the CFO knew? But…he’s responsible for watching the money.

      Wait, what, times 2? “understandable lack of experience”? Seriously, these administrators are paid ridiculously huge sums of money, and the report is going to give them a pass due to complete incompetence? I mean, c’mon, the report points out the thousands of students, faculty, coaches, and others that were in on the scam, and those guys didn’t get paid a fortune…how much “experience” do you need to figure out what’s obvious to most everyone else at the institution? Does anyone know if UNC has a few positions open? I have some experience in these matters…

     Again, no, I just don’t buy that UNC was some sort of fluke. The type of scam run at UNC is epic in scale…but little different than what’s going on at many institutions of higher education.
    
     I simply must point out accreditation’s irrelevance when it comes to academic fraud. The report sums it up nicely:

UNC’s accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges (“SACSCOC”), reviewed matters related to the irregular AFAM courses, and in June 2013 its Board of Trustees decided not to sanction Chapel Hill.54After monitoring Chapel Hill’s implementation of remedial policies to prevent a recurrence of such irregularities, SACSCOC notified Chapel Hill in June 2014 that it would take no further action.

     In other words, the accreditation penalty for 18 years of fraud affecting thousands of students and the hundred thousand or more alumni that have had the value of their degrees tarnished?

     Nothing.

     Accreditation has a point: if they start penalizing fraud, they’d have to penalize nearly every institution of higher education now. I’ll discuss this in more detail next time.