Tutor too close to athletes

Teacher refuses role in probe

Staff writersSeptember 24, 2010 

— The former tutor linked to North Carolina's investigation of possible academic misconduct in the football program has declined to cooperate with the probe, athletic director Dick Baddour said Thursday.

"We've reached out to her a number of times," Baddour said in a telephone interview. "We've indicated to her that we would like to talk to her about this investigation, and her preference is not to do that."

Baddour said her lack of cooperation hasn't impeded the investigation: "We have to take the information that we have and go forward with it. Maybe there are situations where we've had to dig deeper. But I like to think we would have done those things with her involvement."

Earlier in the day, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp told the University Board of Trustees that the tutor's contract was not renewed in summer 2009 because "there was too much of a friendship between her and the players."

The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer have learned that Jennifer L. Wiley of Chapel Hill is the tutor being looked at for her possible role in the academic probe that has led to the suspension of players from football games. She's a 22-year-old elementary school teacher in Durham.

It is unclear what role, if any, Wiley played. The investigation is ongoing.

Wiley and her family declined comment when contacted in person and multiple times via e-mail and phone message by The N&O and Charlotte Observer over the past two weeks. Her father said she has representation but would not provide the lawyer's name.

School officials have refused to confirm her identity but have confirmed 15 players as part of their investigations into possible agent and academic misconduct.

"She's protected, she's got some FERPA rights on that," Baddour said, referring to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.

2009 graduate

Wiley, 22, graduated from UNC in 2009.

She was working as a mentor/tutor in UNC's academic support program in 2006 when Butch Davis, then the newly hired head football coach, asked for recommendations for a tutor for his son, Drew, now 17. Davis said during an interview Thursday that he was given a list of four or five people who worked in the academic support program. His family used several of the tutors, and the woman in question worked for him from December 2008 to May 2010.

"She was kind of like an academic coach," said Davis, who declined to name the tutor. "She tried to teach him how to organize his notebooks, how to separate one subject from the other, how to do research, how to do papers, she just helped him in a variety of different [ways]. She was one of a couple of tutors. She worked with specific subjects.

"... She did a good job for our family."

Meanwhile, she also worked as a tutor/mentor for the school until July 2009 - after she had graduated from UNC with a bachelor's degree in elementary education and just before she started her job teaching fifth grade at a Durham elementary school in August 2009, according to university alumni association records and her teaching contract.

At that time, Baddour explained, her contract with academic support wasn't renewed because supervisors in the program - which is headed by the College of Arts and Sciences - felt that friendships were developing between the tutor and the players she was mentoring.

"And that was outside the expectation of the program," Baddour said. "And I am not suggesting in any way that anything inappropriate was going on, other than the perception of hanging out or being together. And that was clearly in exception to what the guidelines are, what the expectations are in that program."

At UNC, tutors and mentors (who work with small groups of athletes) receive four hours of training before they are hired, including instruction on NCAA compliance. At the beginning of each semester, they are required to sign a form agreeing to follow academic honesty policies. At the end of each semester, they must sign another form stating they have neither witnessed, nor committed, any academic fraud or violations.

They can't type athletes' papers. They are not allowed to communicate with athletes over e-mail or work with them anywhere outside the Academic Support Center. They are given handbooks to remind them of the procedures.

Although the handbooks don't expressly forbid tutors or mentors from friending athletes on Facebook or other social media sites, "our training spells out that you're not to be personal friends," associate athletic director John Blanchard said last month. "You're not to hang out. It's a professional relationship, and we want to keep it professional."

UNC announced on Aug. 26 that it was looking into possible academic improprieties involving a tutor who worked for both the school and Davis.

Baddour said then that a player interviewed during the NCAA's investigation into possible improprieties with sports agents shared information about the academic situation, prompting a separate branch of the investigation. A university source familiar with the investigation said the problems involved inappropriate help on papers that football players were required to write for classes.

Thirteen players were ultimately deemed ineligible, or withheld, before the Sept. 4 season opener against LSU because of the academic and agent investigations.

One player, tailback Shaun Draughn, was reinstated after missing two games. Two others, defensive backs Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams, have garnered NCAA suspensions in the "agent" side of the investigation. UNC has declined to say which of the 10 remaining athletes are still out because of the agent part of the probe, the academic side, or both.

No comment

Attempts to reach Wiley's current principal in Durham failed. A secretary at the school refused to take a message for the principal, referring all calls to the district's public relations office.

Doris Walker, the school principal who helped hire Wiley last year, said that her work as a tutor in the athletic program was known but that she was unaware of any other work directly with Davis' family.

"It was not a deciding factor [in hiring her] in any way," Walker said. "It was just incidental information. ... It just came up that it was one of the things that she was fortunate enough to do that contributed to her teaching experience."

Wiley started with fifth-graders but was moved into a kindergarten room within a month or two, Walker said.

Walker described Wiley as a bright, up-and-coming teacher who had a gentle manner and was "very devoted" to her students. Her way was especially helpful with kindergarteners, she said.

"We felt that her very caring, gentle attitude would be very good with our 5-year-olds. ... It's an extra gift for 5-year-olds to have that caring personality," the former principal said.

She called it "startling" that there would be any questions of academic misconduct.

No contact

Davis, meanwhile, said he has not been in contact with the tutor since the August news conference when the academic part of the investigation was announced.

Although no rules were broken when Davis hired a tutor who was also working as a tutor for the school, that policy might change in the future.

"I agree with Holden's comment on that," Baddour said. "There wasn't a policy that precluded that. I think in light of all that has happened, it would be a safeguard to prevent that from happening again, and I'm confident that it won't."

Baddour said that the Faculty Committee on Athletics is taking a "hard look" at the academic support program - including whether undergraduates should be used as tutors.

"I think that's something we need to ask," Baddour said. "I do know that I am familiar with other tutoring and mentoring programs in the University that do use undergraduates, so that's not out of the norm."

Baddour would not say whether the academic investigation might be progressing faster, had the tutor agreed to talk to school investigators. "That would be speculation on my part, and I really don't have an answer for that question," he said

But asked if she could still be helpful, Baddour said: "We would welcome her involvement and would look forward to the opportunity to talk to her."

Staff writers Eric Ferreri and J.P. Giglio contributed to this report.

robbi.pickeral@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8944

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service