Martin's UNC report notable for what's in it, and what's not

Ex-governor, helpers say time ran out, and report ‘is what it is’

acurliss@newsobserver.comDecember 21, 2012 

A 74-page report issued Thursday by former Gov. Jim Martin provided more evidence of serious academic misconduct at UNC-Chapel Hill in what he called a “pattern of abuse” over more than a decade led by the former chairman of the African studies department.

The widely anticipated report was also notable for what wasn’t in it, something Martin acknowledged in interviews and presentations. In part, there are gaps and unanswered questions because the scope of his work was limited.

But Martin, and two consultants who assisted him, also said time ran out on their efforts to include a breakdown and accounting of how many UNC athletes were enrolled in the scores of classes that he identified as having academic misconduct.

Disclosures this year of athletes benefiting from some of more than 50 fraudulent courses in the department had prompted Martin’s expansive review.

Martin pledged to provide more data on athletes and course information in a follow-up report next month.

“I would have thought that would have been in there,” said Louis Bissette, a member of the UNC system Board of Governors who is leading a panel to review UNC’s inquiries. “I am assured that we will receive it.”

Martin’s report concludes that athletes benefited from the problem courses along with non-athletes, telling university trustees that athletes typically made up about 30 percent of the problem courses.

Martin called his findings an “academic scandal” that was worse than an athletic one. At one point, when a member of the Board of Governors referred to his findings as “issues,” Martin interrupted.

“It’s a scandal,” he said.

Martin also faced and answered questions from university trustees, Board of Governors members and reporters about other topics not covered in depth in his report. Among them:

• He got no information from the people he holds responsible – former African studies chairman Julius Nyang’oro and his assistant, Deborah Crowder. He said he placed phone calls to them, but he isn’t sure whether they got his messages. He said he checked some of their email messages, but that he did not review phone logs.

• Martin did not interview any current or former basketball players or coaches. He interviewed two former football players and two former football coaches, including past head coach John Bunting. Martin said he didn’t think he would learn information from talking to others that hadn’t been obtained elsewhere already or wasn’t already known.

• Martin’s review did not include inspection of individual student transcripts. Auditors said they gathered data that would have included compilations of that information.

• He gave only brief mention to questions of plagiarism after the work of at least four football players made public has been shown to have been the heavily copied work of others. “This review was not intended to make academic judgments about whether plagiarism occurred …” his report says.

• Martin did not spend much time in his report on the rigor of classes, saying his work was not set up to “opine on the difficulty or quality of the courses offered and instructed at the university.”

• Martin said he did not study the actual work of students in the courses he identified as irregular. He said the university’s records-retention policy keeps term papers for only one year. Martin noted in his report that an earlier university review of suspect classes had not found instances of students receiving grades without doing work, but that was “an aspect that was outside the scope of this review.”

Martin’s report was received warmly by many members of the university trustees and the Board of Governors panel. Joy Renner, chair of the faculty athletics committee, said the data make clear that the problems were limited to one department.

“I’m a very skeptical person by nature, so I kind of like to see data, and I like to know what’s real and not real,” she said. “So I think I can feel good about moving forward, that this was more isolated. Because I wasn’t willing to say that until we finished this.”

Mary Willingham, a former reading specialist for the academic support program who said staff there knew the no-show classes were being used to keep academically struggling athletes eligible, said she was disappointed that Martin’s report never addressed why athletes were in those classes. She sat in the room as Martin spoke to the trustees, but walked out when he started talking about the broader topic of grade inflation at UNC-Chapel Hill and other universities.

“He did the who, what, where, I guess, but he never answered the why,” Willingham said. “He had the opportunity to expose that, and I think intentionally he chose not to do it because I don’t think he wanted to expose the corruption of the NCAA and the athletic program.”

Martin said news reporting, rivals and the university itself have all turned up painful information about UNC. He said his report would bring more pain, but that it was necessary.

Auditors thought they would find “a lot more” than what they did, said Raina Rose Tagle, a partner in the firm Baker Tilly Beers & Cutler, which assisted Martin in the review.

“We did what we could,” she told members of the Board of Governors. “And now that we’ve reached our conclusions, I think it could sound like we are championing on behalf of the university. But I think what we’re doing is, we’re saying, ‘This is what we did, and this is what we found. And it is what it is …’ ”

Staff writers Jane Stancill and Dan Kane contributed to this report.

Curliss: 919-829-4840

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