If officials of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had long ago been more candid about the academic-athletics scandal, they could have avoided millions of dollars, many millions, in legal fees. The tab for various firms, including some of the highest-priced ones in the nation, now stands at nearly $18 million. Though UNC-CH officials stress the money doesn’t come from tuition or state appropriations, it clearly is money that could have been used for pursuits closer to the university’ mission instead of defending a scandal.
The tab, by the way, is still open. Athletes who claimed they didn’t get a fair shake are suing, and there’s no telling what may be down the road. And the university also spent handsomely on outside public relations help to “manage” the story, even though it has an entire public affairs staff.
Sadly, this public institution, which ought to feel an obligation to report to the taxpayers, has acted more like a private business engaged in damage control. From the beginning, news organizations have had to fight for what is public information, and the university has tried to cast the story as a minor one exaggerated by the press. That’s always a suspicious tactic, and most of the time — including this time — it doesn’t work.
That the money for millions in legal fees doesn’t come directly from the pockets of taxpayers is little consolation — and no excuse.