UNC Releases Report on Academic Fraud Investigation

The University of North Carolina has finally released its report on its long-standing investigation into fraudulent classes offered through the African-American Studies department, and it’s pretty damning. The school offered fake classes to thousands of students – nearly half of them athletes – and gave them A’s and B’s for almost no work or in some cases, literally no work. It was orchestrated largely by an administrative assistant who also changed bad grades without the knowledge of professors. Additionally, the department chair knew so it wasn’t just a rogue admin. This was all done with the full knowledge and complicity of the athletics department, which pushed students, particularly in football and basketball, into these classes. The athletics department was even concerned that these classes would disappear when the administrator retired and pressured the department to keep going.

It also turns out that the classes involved were both fake independent studies and fake lectures. Some non-athletes who signed up for classes were actually interested and were thus denied the opportunity to learn about those subjects. However, as such a huge number of students were involved, many students already knew that the classes were fraudulent and took them just for the free boost to their GPA. Fraternities were particularly involved. The report also makes it clear that much of the department’s faculty were totally unaware of what was going on and, to the extent that they were aware, were furious. That a formerly-segregated public university in the south would end up with these fake classes in the African American studies department is particularly appalling. This casts doubt on the legitimacy of everyone in the department even though it is also clear that there are plenty of real classes available as well – while the athletes were nearly half of the students in the fake classes, they were less than 10% of students in normal classes in that department.

Deadspin has a copy of the report if you want to read the whole thing.

While UNC will obviously need to continue to take action to correct these problems, the massive scale of this fraud also calls for intervention by outside parties. The accrediting body, SACS, needs to do a serious investigation, as thousands of students potentially received degrees that they did not earn. The federal and state governments should investigate any fraudulent use of government funds to pay for all of this. Finally, because the cooperation of the athletics department was an instrumental part in this whole saga, the NCAA needs to get involved. If anything called for the implementation of the NCAA’s “death penalty” it would be this kind of behavior (well, either this or covering up crimes to protect a team’s reputation). I would suggest that the entire athletics department be banned from NCAA competition for at least a year, all records from the affected teams for the 18 years in which these classes were offered be erased, and all wins forfeited.


Physics-Based Halloween Costumes

If you’re the type to still dress up for Halloween, Symmetry magazine (i.e. Fermilab and SLAC) has a short guide on physics-based costumes. Some of them are abstract enough where people who aren’t physicists might not get the joke. I like the idea for MiniBooNE and MicroBooNE.