HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. – A former professor at the center of an academic scandal involving athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been charged with a felony, accused of receiving $12,000 in payment for a lecture course in which he held no classes.
A grand jury on Monday indicted Julius Nyang'Oro with a single felony count of obtaining property by false pretenses.
Nyang'Oro was chairman of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. He resigned from that post in 2011 during a campus investigation that found certain classes in the department that instructors did not teach, undocumented grade changes and faked faculty signatures on some grade reports.
The scandal contributed to the departure of football coach Butch Davis and the resignation of a former chancellor, Holden Thorp.
Nyang'Oro, who retired in 2012, could face up to 10 months in prison if convicted. The university said it recouped the $12,000 from his final paycheck.
Calls to two numbers listed for Nyang'Oro rang busy. A man answering a call to a third number for Nyang'Oro on indictment documents hung up without comment and follow-up messages weren't returned.
Orange County District Attorney James Woodall said the professor's 2011 summer course was supposed to have had regular class meetings. But he said Nyang'oro instead ran an independent study class that required students to write papers but not show up. The school found that the course, a late addition to the schedule, had an enrollment of 18 football players and one former football player.
A campus investigation into academic fraud released last year blamed the scandal solely on Nyang'oro and a department administrator who also has since retired. The probe led by former Gov. Jim Martin concluded that alleged fraud didn't involve other faculty or members of the athletic department.
Martin, a former college chemistry professor, was aided by consultants with experience in academic investigations. After shortcomings of the report's method were highlighted, Martin and university officials said they lacked the subpoena powers of State Bureau of Investigation, or SBI, to force people to answer questions and produce evidence.
"Both the university and Mr. Woodall relied on the SBI to help determine whether any criminal acts had occurred, since the SBI had broad investigative powers not available to the university," said Tom Ross, president of the state university system.
He added in his statement Monday that the university's ongoing cooperation with the criminal process will continue to its conclusion.
Martin said there was no evidence the university's athletics department pushed students into courses with known irregularities that would allow athletes to remain eligible for competition. Unauthorized grade changes in the African studies department were not limited to student-athletes, Martin said, and athletes generally didn't flock to problematic African studies courses.
The NCAA sanctioned the university's football program in March 2012 with a one-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions for previously discovered improper benefits including cash and travel accommodations. The NCAA reviewed irregularities in the African studies department after an earlier campus probe found 54 problem classes between 2007 and 2011. The collegiate sports oversight body told university officials it had found no new rules violations.
The school's chancellor issued her own statement Monday on the indictment.
"The action described in today's indictment is completely inconsistent with the standards and aspirations of this great institution," Chancellor Carol Folt said in a statement. "This has been a difficult chapter in the university's history, and we have learned many lessons."