CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — More than 3,100 students — nearly half of them athletes — enrolled in classes they didn’t have to show up for and received artificially inflated grades in what an investigator called a ‘‘shadow curriculum’’ that lasted nearly two decades at the University of North Carolina.
The report released Wednesday by former high-ranking US Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein found more far-reaching academic fraud than previous investigations by the school and the NCAA.
Many at the university hoped Wainstein’s investigation would bring some sort of closure to the long-running scandal, which is rooted in an NCAA investigation focused on improper benefits within the football program in 2010.
Instead, findings of a systemic problem in the former African and Afro-American Studies department could lead to NCAA sanctions.
The report outlined courses in the former African and Afro-American Studies department that required only a research paper that was often scanned quickly and given an A or B regardless of the quality of work.
‘‘By the mid-2000s, these classes had become a primary — if not the primary — way that struggling athletes kept themselves from having eligibility problems,’’ the report said.
In all, athletes made up about 47 percent of the enrollments in the 188 lecture-classified paper classes. Of that group, 51 percent were football players.