UNC academic scandal explained
Newly released legal bills show UNC’s costs related to the long-running academic-athletic scandal are approaching $18 million.
From mid-2015 to near the end of last year, UNC said Friday that it has spent another $5.6 million on legal costs for the NCAA investigation, three lawsuits by former athletes who say they were harmed by the scandal and document reviews for two public records requests. UNC had previously spent roughly $12 million on legal, investigative and public relations costs related to the scandal involving classes that had no instruction and provided high grades for papers regardless of quality.
The largest recipient of the $5.6 million was the Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom law firm. Based in New York, it received more than $2 million. The firm had been assisting with the NCAA case, but roughly a year ago, had to back out because of a conflict, UNC officials said. The university is now using the Sidley Austin law firm and has paid it $508,000 through the first six months of 2016.
Bond, Schoeneck & King, a law firm with headquarters in Syracuse, N.Y., that specializes in NCAA matters, received $1.3 million from August 2015 to December 2016.
UNC also spent another $1.8 million to review, redact and then release public records requested by The News & Observer and The Daily Tar Heel, which is the student newspaper. The firm that UNC paid to conduct the most extensive investigation into the scandal, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, received $159,000 of that amount for producing records for UNC, and the rest went to unidentified parties. The requests were for the roughly 1.7 million records UNC provided to Cadwalader for its investigation, which was led by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein, a partner in the firm.
UNC officials say none of the money to pay the bills is coming from tuition or state appropriations.
The legal bills are likely to continue for many months. Two of the athlete lawsuits await a decision in a federal court in Winston-Salem. U.S. District Judge Loretta C. Biggs held a hearing nearly a year ago to determine whether the cases should proceed to discovery, but has yet to issue a ruling.
Meanwhile, the NCAA’s case against UNC, which includes major allegations of lack of institutional control and unethical conduct, was delayed again last week after one of the creators of the bogus classes, Deborah Crowder, an office manager for the African studies department, said in an affidavit that they were legitimate. She had not agreed to previous interview requests by the NCAA, but is now tentatively consenting to be interviewed.
The bogus classes lasted 18 years and involved more than 3,100 students, roughly half of them athletes, Wainstein’s investigation found. The scandal is often cited in the national debate about the educations athletes receive in exchange for performing on the field or court.
This week, lawmakers in the state House and Senate filed companion bills calling for a commission to examine how college athletes are treated in UNC schools. The Senate bill, which was assigned to the rules committee, has 10 sponsors, while five lawmakers sponsored the House bill.
The legal bills released Friday also reflect $3.2 million paid to Skadden to represent the university in an unrelated lawsuit involving its undergraduate admissions process.