Leadership at the University of North Carolina on Tuesday pleaded for patience while Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor, conducts an investigation into ongoing concerns at the intersection of academics and athletics.
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and Bubba Cunningham, the university’s athletic director, both released statements Tuesday, four days after Rashad McCants, a standout player on UNC’s 2005 national championship basketball team, made allegations of academic misconduct during his time at UNC.
McCants, in an interview on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” alleged that tutors wrote his papers, that counselors and advisers directed him to no-show classes in the African and Afro-American Studies department and that coach Roy Williams was aware of it.
McCants’ comments reinforce previous reports that academic advisers steered UNC athletes into the no-show classes to keep them eligible to play. UNC has been under scrutiny during the past three years over AFAM courses that never met, resulted in high grades and had a high percentage of athletes.
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UNC has denied those courses constituted a violation of NCAA rules. In an open letter posted on UNC’s website on Tuesday, Folt wrote that she had “received many questions from members of our community” about McCants’ claims.
“It is clear that our community cares deeply about these issues,” Folt wrote. “And I want to assure you that we are doing our best to resolve remaining questions.”
Folt focused much of her letter on Wainstein, whom UNC hired in January, and his ongoing investigation. She wrote that UNC hired Wainstein “to ask the tough questions and follow the facts wherever they lead.”
“I believe we have a responsibility to our students, faculty, staff, alumni and University community at large to ensure we get this right, to empower Mr. Wainstein to investigate fully, thoughtfully and without any interference – and I encourage anyone who has relevant information to contact him directly,” Folt wrote.
Cunningham, the athletic director, said last week that he encouraged McCants to speak with Wainstein, and Wainstein in a statement said he wanted to interview McCants, whose comments ignited more controversy surrounding a beleaguered athletic department.
According to two copies of his transcript, which “Outside the Lines” obtained, McCants took 18 AFAM classes and made 10 A’s, six B’s, one C and one D. He never made a higher grade than a C in his other courses, according to the transcripts that “Outside the Lines” cited.
McCants’ former teammates at UNC released a statement on Friday refuting his allegations and supporting Williams, who defended himself and the integrity of his basketball program during an interview with ESPN on Saturday. Cunningham on Tuesday said he took pride in the support surrounding Williams.
“I am proud to see the outpouring of support from former players and the basketball community at large, which reinforces the respect, integrity and care of student athletes that Coach Williams has shown throughout his career,” Cunningham said in a statement.
Both Folt and Cunningham, though, alluded to ongoing questions that McCants’ story again raised.
“Everyone here at Carolina wants to know all we can about past academic and athletic anomalies,” Cunningham said. “But speculation and innuendo should not replace the independent investigation currently being conducted by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein. We must allow his work to be complete and thorough.”
Folt wrote that the investigative process “takes time.”
“Until the investigation is complete,” she wrote, “we may not be able to respond to each new report or allegation. In some cases that is because we do not want to jump to conclusions or otherwise impede the investigation.”
It’s unclear how long it might take for Wainstein to complete his investigation and finalize his report, which will be released to the public. Once it’s complete, Folt wrote, UNC “will take appropriate action, building on the significant reforms” it has already implemented.
“At that time we will also be better equipped to respond to individual claims,” she wrote. “Until then, we appreciate your patience and understanding.”