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Allegations of academic fraud among student athletes at the University of North Carolina have sparked national soul-searching about the role of sports in higher education and questions about how such problems could go unnoticed at a major university.
Along with sharing a storied basketball rivalry, Kansas University and UNC enjoy ties as academic institutions. In its long-term strategic plan, KU lists UNC among its peer institutions. Over the years KU and UNC have swapped basketball coaches, faculty and, in former UNC provost and current KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, a high-level university administrator.
Gray-Little has said she was unaware of the problems while she was at UNC.
The alleged fraud in what was the UNC College of Arts and Science's African and Afro-American Studies department extended back to the 1990s, investigators believe. Professor and former department chairman Julius Nyang’oro faces criminal charges for accepting pay to teach classes that the university and law-enforcement officials say never met. Hundreds of classes with high student-athlete enrollment are now said to have been only partially taught or not taught at all, according to reports.
Only two people have been implicated so far in the scandal, Nyang'oro and Deborah Crowder, a departmental manager for the Afro-American Studies department.
Gray-Little joined KU as chancellor in 2009 after serving as provost and executive vice chancellor at UNC. Before then she served in a series of lower administrative posts at UNC, including dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. As provost and as dean of the college, Gray-Little would have overseen the Afro-American Studies department in different capacities during the time that some of the alleged problems with academics occurred.
Gray-Little turned down an interview request on the subject. In a previous media statement she has said:
"I’ve read of the painful revelations about the academic experiences of some student-athletes at Carolina over the past several years. If I’d known of the problems in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies that have since come to light I would have taken action to address them. Chancellor (Carol) Folt and Provost (Jim) Dean have made a commitment to address these issues and I wish them well in that effort."
Jay Smith, a UNC history professor who is currently working on a book about the scandal, said that Gray-Little likely would have been too high up the university hierarchy to have known about the issues with student athletes.
"To be honest, I would not expect a dean or provost to be aware of these sorts of shenanigans," he said. "These things were carried out at a nitty-gritty level that deans and provosts generally don't stoop to."
One former UNC administrator, Madeline Levine, has said publicly that she went to then-Provost Gray-Little with concerns about an athlete who she thought might be functionally illiterate. Levine, a UNC professor emeritus of Slavic literature who was interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 2006-07, said in an email to the Journal-World that while dean she went to Gray-Little for advice about the student.
"Without an appointment, I went to her office and asked for a moment of her time, which she was kind enough to grant me on the spot," Levine said. "It was a very brief interaction, and her reply was correct: i.e., the student was already admitted and there was nothing I could do."
"She (Gray-Little) played no role in admitting that student," Levine added.
In previous media accounts Gray-Little has said through a spokesperson that she did not remember the incident, which Levine said she does not doubt. Levine emphasized her regard for Gray-Little.
"She is a person of absolute integrity and a model administrator," Levine said.
When she came to KU, Gray-Little's qualities as an administrator were also trumpeted by then-UNC Chancellor James Moeser, who hired Gray-Little as provost and credited her office with increasing the university's research funding. Moeser, now a chancellor emeritus, served from 2000 to 2008.
Another bridge between KU and UNC, Moeser served as chair of the organ department in the KU music school and became dean of the School of Fine Arts in 1975. He left Kansas in 1986 and eventually joined UNC as provost in 1992.