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RALEIGH N.C. (Reuters) - More than 3,000 students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill received credit for fake classes over an 18-year period as part of a program that allowed many of them to remain eligible to play sports, according to a report released on Wednesday.
The investigation by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein is the latest of several attempts to unravel allegations of academic fraud involving student-athletes at a university known for both its academic rigor and athletics.
"This is a very complex organization that needed oversight at every step of the way, and it didn't exist," Wainstein said at a news conference following the report's release. "It's pretty shocking that it didn't exist."
The report does not incriminate any coaches or athletic administrators in the scheme, which it said was carried out by a former department head and former office administrator within the African and Afro-American Studies department.
The "irregular classes" at UNC-Chapel Hill from 1993 to 2011 had no class attendance or faculty involvement, according to Wainstein's independent investigation.
Student-athletes accounted for nearly half of enrollments in the irregular classes, the report found. Among the non-athletes, many were struggling students who were referred through academic support services.
Many of them were directed to the courses by counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes, the report said, with some counselors going so far as to provide rosters of athletes and the grades they needed to maintain eligibility.
Various personnel at the school were aware of red flags, yet did not ask questions, the report said.
"Mr. Wainstein has found that the wrongdoing at Carolina lasted much longer and affected more students than previously known," UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt said in a statement.
"The bad actions of a few and the inaction of others failed the University's students, faculty and alumni, and undermined the institution as a whole.
"This conduct could and should have been stopped much earlier by individuals in positions of influence and oversight, and others could have sounded the alarm more forcefully."
Additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Kaminsky, Eric Walsh and Sandra Maler