UNC releases records in academic fraud probe
Posted October 23, 2015
Chapel Hill, N.C. — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released more than 214,000 pages of documents Thursday, a fraction of the nearly 5 million pages of records investigators collected in an academic fraud scandal involving faculty, staff and student-athletes.
The records, which include more than 91,000 emails, were gathered as part of a report released last October by Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor hired by campus officials to conduct an independent investigation into academic fraud spanning 18 years.
Wainstein's 131-page report found student-athletes were given preferential treatment in the classroom and were specifically steered by academic counselors toward classes in the African and Afro-American Studies Department that rarely met and required only a paper to pass. The university has since found two new NCAA violations involving improper academic assistance given to former women's basketball players, as well as soccer violations.
Four employees have been terminated or resigned as a result of the investigation. Six other employees still face a review by the university and could be disciplined.
WRAL News reviewed some of the 200,000-plus pages on Friday and found numerous emails from Mary Willingham, a former UNC-Chapel Hill academic adviser who spoke out against lax standards for student-athletes and has since written a book about what she found.
In one email, Willingham complains to then-Chancellor Holden Thorp about "unacceptable harassment" by a senior associate athletic director at the school.
"I reported what I saw and 912 days go by with no interest in me or my claims/truth telling," Willingham wrote. "What your administration decided to do with what I told them was out of my control. I have always done and continue to do the right thing for our students."
Willingham also traded numerous emails with Jay Smith, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor of history who co-wrote her book, "Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports."
"I would love to see the N&O run a story on the University's decision to harass you," Smith wrote to Willingham in April 2013."I would love to see Holden (Thorp) and (Director of Athletics) Bubba (Cunningham) squirming when confronted with questions about this … It’s been a long time since I had to fight this hard to restrain myself. I want to unload on those SOBs."
One month later, Willingham told Smith she planned to "make a scene" and threatened to turn her recordings, emails and 1,100-plus documents over to the media. "This system of collegiate sport is beyond broken," she wrote.
Smith shared his concerns with faculty members on a listserv in December 2012. Under the subject line, "more depressing news," he shared a note from a fellow instructor who was "not sure how to deal with an apparent case of plagiarism involving an athlete."
"The student admitted that he had an athletic tutor re-write the first four pages of the paper … Do we do anything? ... The re-writing was substantial ... We don’t know all the details, of course. But I’m horrified, just horrified, that this is still evidentially going on. I find it almost inconceivable. I am going to recommend that this be turned over to the honor system, but I do so with conflicted feelings. You know who deserves to be punished for this? UNC."
UNC's records also showed emails from tutors who were helping student-athletes with their classwork. Some tutors complained about the students' lack of effort, including one who "isn't going to class." Another tutor wrote that a student didn't care about the quality of his homework assignments because "the teacher never collects them."
In one email, a student-athlete asked for help getting a higher grade, saying, "without a C, it's pretty much over with for me. Anything I can do, I'll do anything. I just need to get this C so I can play next season."
A 2008 email from an assistant dean in the academic advising program warned that the university could no longer code students as full-time if they were enrolled in fewer than 12 hours of courses.
"We have recently learned that this can no longer happen because it 'violates the law' in some way," the assistant dean wrote. "Our office will need to know from you what procedure to follow in January for student-athletes who may be affected by this new policy."
UNC released the documents in response to public records requests from The News & Observer and The Daily Tar Heel – the largest public records requests in the university's history, according to school officials. UNC plans to release more of the records as they are reviewed and redacted to protect private information.