A former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor accused of accepting money and handing out grades for a class he never held will plead not guilty.
Julius Nyang’Oro, also a former chairman of the university’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies, was indicted on Monday on a felony fraud charge. He allegedly accepted $12,000 to set up a lecture course that never met, even though students enrolled in the class and grades were handed out.
Nyang’Oro’s family and attorney, however, defended the former professor and said he will fight the charges in court.
“Dr. Nyang’Oro is presumed to be innocent under our law,” attorney Bill Thomas said to the News & Observer. “There’s been one side of this story that has been put forth in the press, but he’s going to have an opportunity to present his side. We intend to present his case in court. He is going to contest these charges.”
According to the Daily Tar Heel, Nyang’Oro was asked to resign by UNC-Chapel Hill in 2011 after the school learned he arranged numerous courses that were either taught sporadically or never held at all. Multiple investigations, including one conducted by former North Carolina Governor Jim Martin, found that Nyang’Oro had been orchestrating these kinds of classes since 1997.
The allegations also raised concerns that the athletics department was involved, since a large number of students enrolled in the classes were athletes. Ultimately, the arrangement was determined to be an isolated incidence, with Nyang’Oro and former department administrator Deborah Crowder primarily to blame.
The felony fraud charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 months with a conviction, though numerous outlets reported that Nyang’Oro would likely receive probation if he’s found guilty.
“We weren’t seeing a lot of criminal activity here,” Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall told the Daily Tar Heel. “There may have been academic fraud and improprieties, but that’s not illegal.”
UNC President Tom Ross told WRAL News that he supports the indictment against Nyang’Oro, and that new safeguards have been implemented to keep similar events from occurring in the future.
"There have been multiple investigations and reviews of these matters that should give us all assurance that we have taken all reasonable and available steps to uncover the facts of this situation," Ross said in a statement. "In addition, over the past two years, UNC-Chapel Hill and the UNC system have implemented extensive new policies, procedures and safeguards to prevent similar problems from ever happening again, and we believe these efforts are appropriate, comprehensive, strong and represent best practices."
The trial is currently scheduled to begin on December 17.