Martin's report could shed new light on UNC scandal

Ex-governor tasked with finding how deep scandal went

dkane@newsobserver.comDecember 19, 2012 

Three months ago, after the disclosure of former UNC-Chapel Hill two-sport star Julius Peppers’ academic transcript, Chancellor Holden Thorp tapped a former governor to dig deeper into an academic fraud scandal that suddenly appeared to reach into three decades.

Jim Martin, a two-term Republican who began his career as a chemistry professor at Davidson College, is expected to deliver his findings Thursday in meetings with the university’s Board of Trustees and a UNC Board of Governors special panel that is looking into the scandal. He, Thorp and a representative from a national management consulting firm assisting Martin are also expected to take questions from the media.

Expectations are high for this report, largely because Thorp has given numerous indications that Martin would have the authority and access to tackle anything he sees fit. Thorp has sent Martin, for example, records obtained by The News & Observer that reflect the internal workings of the academic support program for student athletes, as well as information The N&O received from the university that showed athletes had packed into a Naval Weapons Systems class.

But the charge given to Martin was relatively narrow. An internal review released in May found 54 lecture-style classes that never met in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies over the past four years, plus a lack of accountability in the department for hundreds of independent studies offered over the years.

Peppers, who left the university in 2002 without graduating, had a transcript that showed Bs or better in classes that had been identified in the report as suspect, while performing poorly in many of his remaining classes.

Martin was required to “examine academic years before 2007 for similar patterns indicating additional irregularity or aberrantly taught classes, if any.”

It also says that the university’s and its board of trustees’ “primary concern is that all students receive a high-quality Carolina education. We are concerned about our student-athletes and our non-athlete students. We ask that you review and identify patterns of concern regarding all students.”

As a result, some fear that Martin’s report will not get to the heart of what caused the no-show classes and questionable independent studies, and how they were used by athletes and their counselors in the academic support program. Martin has suggested he will take on broader issues such as grade inflation and clustering around easy classes by athletes and non-athletes.

That information would be useful to the university but could also obscure the academic issues that may have started out with the goal of aiding athletes struggling to stay eligible, or wound up that way over time.

“My sense is they are looking at statistics, enrollment statistics, and maybe grade changes and the clustering phenomenon,” said Jay Smith, a UNC history professor who has been outspoken about the scandal. “I seriously doubt that they are going to pinpoint the problems. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised, but I’m not very hopeful.”

Kane: 919-829-4861

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