Ex-staffer in UNC academic probe defends quality of courses

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Friday March 10th, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) A former staffer at the center of North Carolina's multiyear academic scandal defended the quality of courses offered and her attorney says the NCAA has falsely charged her with wrongdoing.

In an affidavit, Deborah Crowder -- a retired administrator in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department -- said she didn't create courses to provide special assistance to athletes. She said both athletes and non-athletes "were treated equal" and had access to the courses through academic counselors.

Elliot Abrams, Crowder's Raleigh-based attorney, said Thursday he sent the affidavit and a letter to the NCAA in response to its Notice of Allegations outlining five charges against the school, including lack of institutional control.

UNC faces a deadline next week to respond to those charges.

Abrams' letter to NCAA vice president of enforcement Jonathan F. Duncan states the "legitimate" courses were used to help students facing issues such as scheduling conflicts, unavailable course offerings, adviser errors or personal issues that could include medical problems or employment demands.

"The courses in question were generally available to students," the letter states. "The courses were academically rigorous and did not violate any official university policies. And all students were treated the same with respect to all material aspects of the courses."

Crowder cooperated with a 2014 investigation by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein, who looked into AFAM irregularities that included independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture courses that didn't meet and required a research paper or two. She hasn't cooperated with NCAA investigators, the basis for one charge against UNC.

Wainstein's report estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes across numerous sports accounting for roughly half the enrollments. The report focused blame largely on Crowder and ex-chairman Julius Nyang'oro, while noting Crowder graded papers despite being an office administrator and not a faculty member.

In her affidavit, Crowder states Nyang'oro initially graded all papers but she eventually took them on in later years because he "began travelling so much he that he was unavailable to grade papers and thus placed this additional burden on me." She also objected to Wainstein's characterization that she handed out A's or B's for "relatively little work," saying she ensured papers met topic and length requirements while including appropriate citations, a bibliography and a signed honor pledge.

According to Abrams' letter, the first "customized" course offered by Nyang'oro was for a non-athlete who was in her final semester and received incorrect advice from an adviser that could've interfered with graduation.

The NCAA first filed charges in May 2015, revised them in April 2016 and then did so again in December. In the most recent version, the NCAA charged UNC with providing improper extra benefits through athlete access to the courses after withdrawing a similar charge previously.

Initially tied to conduct by academic counselors, that charge now focuses on Crowder and Nyang'oro while also citing them for violating "principles of ethical conduct." Abrams' letter calls the charge "false."

Abrams' letter also states Crowder is "considering cooperating" with NCAA investigators and called her affidavit a "first step." "It became apparent that misinformation was going to govern or kind of control the message, and she has the accurate information," Abrams told The Associated Press on Thursday. "She thought that former students were going to be seriously hurt by the misinformation, and if she didn't speak up now, she would never get a chance to."

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