Editorial

Documents go through the laundry at Chapel Hill

Heavily censored documents border on a coverup by UNC-Chapel Hill officials.

July 20, 2012 

In continuing to resist, with passive-aggressive censorship, the release of complete documents pertinent to the first big athletics scandal in 50 years, officials of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill look more and more like they’re trying to hide something.

Maybe they’re not, but when they delete substantial portions of records related to an NCAA probe of the scandalized football program eventually sanctioned by that governing body, they raise justifiable suspicions: What are they trying to keep from the public and why are they trying to stop public disclosure? How can they justify the heavy censoring of such documents given that this is a public university? Is there something in these documents that would embarrass, or maybe that would further embarrass, top university officials?

And finally, how in the world can they hide behind a federal law intended to protect students’ academic records as justification for whiting out information in reports, for example, that included a reference to one athlete’s visit to a strip club?

The information had been requested by media organizations including The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer.

Long-running

The N&O has been reporting for months on the scandal under former football coach Butch Davis, who resigned after disclosures that athletes had improper contact with agents, that one of his top assistants, John Blake, had a close connection to an active sports agent and that a tutor was doing too much work for athletes.

Then, in a shock, it turned out that a number of football players (and some on the basketball team) had taken questionable courses under the African and Afro-American Studies department then headed by Julius Nyang’oro.

The courses didn’t require attendance, only a final paper. Nyang’oro has since resigned as department chairman and retired.

The university acts as if it is none of the public’s business, the details of what happened and when and why, despite the fact that there may be clarifying information in these heavily censored documents. UNC-CH simply says it can’t risk giving out too much information on students.

As to those arguments that the white-outs are all about protecting students’ privacy: The university has strained that argument until it now is a most slender thread indeed.

Not the intention

Even former U.S. Sen. James Buckley of New York, who sponsored the law that allowed universities to withhold information about students, has said schools have used the law improperly to hide information pertaining to athletics. It is intended to protect only students’ grades and transcripts, he said.

But it appears UNC-Chapel Hill wants to use the law to keep people – the same people who support this institution with their tax dollars, who rely on it as a cornerstone of the state’s well-being and who thus have an interest in a scandal that reflects poorly on their university – in the dark.

And speaking of dollars, let us not forget that the university spent nearly half a million dollars on law firms with expertise in dealing with the NCAA in the course of that organization’s investigation of UNC-CH. Though officials said it was not state-appropriated money, any sum that goes through a public institution is of interest to the people who support it.

Finally, Tom Ross, president of the UNC system, should not tolerate the kind of games the university is playing with what should be public records, and he may well have to intervene to make that point clear to UNC-CH administrators.

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