Former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin has absolved the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s athletic department and the academic support program for student-athletes of any wrongdoing in an academic fraud scandal, contending officials tried to raise red flags about questionable classes within the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, according to The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.). Martin — who was appointed to lead an investigation into academic improprieties at the university in 2012 — said although those officials twice tried to alert the university’s Faculty Committee on Athletics (in 2002 and 2006) to concerns about the higher-than-expected numbers of independent study enrollments and lecture-style classes that had been converted into independent studies, he wasn’t concerned about the red flags and told the officials that professors “had wide latitude how to teach a course.”

But a separate review of faculty athletic committee minutes for those years and 2007 do not show red flags being raised, and several committee members said they either had no recollection of any concerns or they said it never happened.

Martin’s report found 216 classes with proven or potential problems and 560 suspected unauthorized grade changes. Martin’s finding is critical to the university’s efforts to convince the NCAA that there were no violations related to an academic fraud scandal that has now been confirmed to go back as far as 1997.

Lessons Learned 

Given the numerous issues and uncertainties surrounding this alleged academic fraud, the most appropriate course of action would be to undertake a more complete and comprehensive investigation and audit, preferably initiated by the University of North Carolina’s board of trustees, the NCAA, or a state regulatory office. During their review, auditors should examine several governance, oversight, management, and institutional issues, including:

  • Code of honor and human resources policy. Does the university have a strong code of honor in place that guides students, staff, and others regarding their roles in providing university services? To what extent is this code being adhered to? Does the university’s human resources policy cover the behavior of former employees for their actions while employed, even if alleged wrongdoing is uncovered after they have resigned or retired?
  • Governance and oversight policies. What governance and oversight policies have been established, and are they followed appropriately? Do these include a code of ethics and an anti-fraud policy that requires disclosure — and any necessary remedial action — covering past superior/subordinate relationships that might be exploited in a biased manner? Or, do these policies require that alleged academic fraud behavior be reported immediately to a senior, uninvolved level of the university’s management team?
  • Board discussions. Are there clear rules governing when and in what form minutes of board meetings are recorded and distributed? Are the code of honor and code of conduct, as well as other matters related to potential academic fraud, required, regular agenda items for board discussions?
  • Internal audit function. Does the university or its relevant oversight bodies have an internal audit function in place to undertake regular examination of fraud and fraud risk issues, such as academic fraud?

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