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North Carolina Academic Scandal: Why Did Basketball Players Stop Majoring in African and Afro-American Studies in 2009?

North Carolina’s growing academic scandal involving athletes hasn’t yet embarrassed Roy Williams and the basketball program. But will it?

The school’s internal investigation into the academic scandal went back to 2007, and found that “Football and basketball players accounted for nearly four of every 10 students enrolled in 54 classes,” all within UNC’s Department of African and Afro-American studies. Football and basketball players make up less than 1 percent of the UNC undergraduate population.

The academic fraud led the NCAA to slap the football team with a bowl ban and scholarship reductions, and it is one of the primary reasons coach Butch Davis was fired.

What if the internal investigation stretched back further? And focused on the basketball team? The school would find that seven members of UNC’s title-winning team coached by Roy Williams in 2005 majored in African/Afro-American Studies. The Indy Star documented it in 2010:

That includes Sean May of the Sacramento Kings, the Bloomington prep star and son of former IU star Scott May. Sean May entered the NBA after three years in college, capped by an NCAA title in 2005. He graduated last summer.

May said he started as a double major with communications, but dropped it so he could graduate faster after leaving for the NBA.

Afro-American and African studies, May said, offered “more independent electives, independent study. I could take a lot of classes during the season. Communications, I had to be there in the actual classroom. We just made sure all the classes I had to take, I could take during the summer.”

Interesting quote from May, especially since he didn’t graduate until 2009, years after leaving Chapel Hill. For the conspiracy theorists: it appears May changed his major after coach Matt Doherty was fired and Roy Williams arrived.

But here’s really why Roy Williams might be faced with tough questions about his program and the academic scandal: Wayne Walden, his academic right hand man at Kansas and UNC.

Walden was with Roy Williams at Kansas. He was the basketball team’s academic adviser for 15 years. Then, when Williams left for UNC in 2003, Walden went with him and filled the same role – academic support for men’s basketball, overseeing scheduling, registration, structured study halls, tutorial services, etc. The two were close, obviously. Here’s what Williams said about Walden in the book “Going Home Again“:

According to UNC, Walden left his role as Associate Director of the Academic Support Program on June 26, 2009 – 14 months before the academic scandal was revealed. According to this wedding announcement, Walden got married June 28th, 2009, and left to start a new career.

Roy Williams got tearful while mentioning Walden’s departure, as you can see in this video.

According to UNC, Walden remained at the school during the summer, and his official departure date was Sept. 1, 2009. But according to UNC’s registrar webpage, Walden was listed here (Spring 2010), here (Fall 2010), here (Fall 2011) and here (Spring 2011) as the “responsible person” for the Men and Women’s Swimming and Diving teams, overseeing between 66-78 athletes.

I spoke briefly to Walden by phone this morning, and his response to being listed on the registrars as the “responsible person” for the swimming and diving teams was, “that’s not accurate.”

Walden, who is currently living in Texas, where he has been employed at a non-profit since 2010 according to his now-removed Linkedin profile, wouldn’t elaborate any further about advising the basketball team or the academic scandal. (I previously sent him an email seeking comment on the scandal, to which he replied, “I’m sorry to not have responded sooner. I do not believe it is appropriate for me to comment on your story.”)

There was another North Carolina administrative departure in the summer of 2009: Deb Crowder. As an administrator in the African and Afro-American Studies Department, she had “unusual access” according to the News & Observer, and her duties included “making sure records were kept, schedules followed and phones answered.”

Here’s what the Herald-Sun wrote about Crowder, who had worked at the school since 1979:

UNC’s report stated that Deborah Crowder was a long-term administrator for the department and she retired in September 2009. She declined requests for interviews, and because she was retired, the University could not compel her cooperation, UNC’s report said.

All key paperwork related to department course registrations and grade rolls flowed directly through the department administrator’s hands to the Office of the Registrar, the report said. Because she would not cooperate with UNC’s investigation, it could not be determined if she had any role in the irregularities.

Deb Crowder didn’t return a call seeking comment, but I spoke with a relative of hers, Dorothy Crowder (who was employed by UNC in a different capacity). Dorothy refused to talk about Deborah’s connection to the academic scandal, but did take a moment to rail against Dan Kane of the News & Observer, I imagine for this story, which ran in June.

So in 2009, a year before the scandal went public, the academic adviser to the basketball team – a team which had a history of players who majored in African and Afro-American Studies – left UNC, as did a longtime administrator in that department. Since the departures of Walden and Crowder, records obtained by the News & Observer (click here for the UNC academic info PDF) show a dramatic drop in athletes majoring in African and Afro-American Studies. We specifically looked at the basketball team’s numbers in that major from when Roy Williams took over in 2003-2004, and here are the numbers we found (African & Afro-American majors/players who had chosen a major):

2003-04 AA 5/13
2004-05 AA 7/13 <—- Won NCAA title.
2005-06 AA 3/11
2006-07 AA 3/15
2007-08 AA 2/12
2008-09 AA 1/16  <— Walden and Crowder left after this school year.
2009-10 AA 0/10
2010-11 AA 0/8
2011-12 AA 0/9

The school has redacted many details in the few documents they have made public (the News & Observer has been all over it), and many others are tied up in court.

With reporting from Jacob Kiper.

 

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