New evidence puts UNC academic scandal back on the front burner

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We began hearing about possible academic malfeasance at North Carolina-Chapel Hill about a year ago. At first, the evidence pointed primarily toward the football team. Allegations of no-show classes, grade inflation, excessive assistance from tutors and other improprieties have been flying.

Then the true pride of the Tar Heels, the basketball team, became implicated.

Click here to read UNC academic scandal deepens, staffer says some Tar Heel athletes she oversaw had never read a book

Over time, other scandals pushed the UNC story out of the public consciousness (well, hello there, Scarlet Knights), but at least one professor at Chapel Hill refused to let the matter drop.

Now, a new investigative report from the Charlotte News Observer has shone a little more light on the subject. And what that light revealed was not pretty.

Julius Nyang’oro, the former UNC African studies chairman at the heart of an academic fraud scandal, had a cozy relationship with the program that tutored athletes, according to newly released emails.

Members of the academic support staff offered Nyang’oro football tickets and the chance to watch a game from the sidelines. One counselor offered to discuss athletes’ coursework over drinks, and another negotiated with Nyang’oro to schedule a no-show class.

And why are we just learning this now? The News & Observer reports that a public records request filed nearly a year ago was just honored this month. Some of the email exchanges sound really bad, though the author of the article notes that the bantering context could imply humorous intent.

Still, this kind of thing is a bombshell:

In one email from September 2009, Cynthia Reynolds, a former associate director who oversaw academic support for football players, told Nyang’oro in an email that “I hear you are doing me a big favor this semester and that I should be bringing you lots of gifts and cash???????”

It will take a little time to digest all of the implications of this latest evidence, but you can bet it will re-ignite interest in the relationship between athletics and academics at one of the nation’s blue blood hoops schools.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.