John Drescher

Drescher: Dan Kane’s UNC reporting was on target

Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor and a partner with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, holds up the report on UNC-Chapel Hill’s academic problems in association with the athletics department during a news conference at Chapel Hill, NC, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014.
Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor and a partner with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, holds up the report on UNC-Chapel Hill’s academic problems in association with the athletics department during a news conference at Chapel Hill, NC, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014. cliddy@newsobserver.com

College sports make some people crazy. That’s the only explanation I can summon for some of the mail I’ve received in the last four years as we’ve sought to get to the bottom of the academic and athletic scandals at UNC-Chapel Hill, my alma mater.

Even lawyers, typically analytical and composed, sometimes succumb to Carolina fever. “You have disgraced yourself, your profession, the Roman Catholic faith and most significantly UNC-Chapel Hill,” one lawyer wrote.

Another lawyer, unhappy with our UNC coverage and with me, wrote: “I do not know how you can go home at night, look your own children in the eye and have them think that you are a man of honesty and integrity.”

I’m glad to look my children in the eye (including my 2012 UNC graduate) and tell them that The News & Observer has done excellent work – a true public service – in getting to the bottom of what went wrong at UNC.

I’m also glad to tell them that much of that strong journalism was done by reporter Dan Kane in the face of severe and unwarranted criticism, often personal, from Carolina loyalists.

Kane, 53, who graduated from college in Rochester, N.Y., has worked at The N&O for 17 years. Several N&O reporters have done great reporting on this story, but Kane led the way.

‘Incredibly thorough’

Kane reported that a prize UNC football recruit who needed remedial work was put in a high-level African studies class (and received a B-plus) the summer before his freshman year. That prompted an investigation that revealed no-show classes in that department.

He revealed the cozy relationship between athletic tutors and Julius Nyang’oro, head of the African studies department. He showed how the faculty chairwoman diluted a report and deleted the name of Nyang’oro’s assistant, who led the scheme to create fake classes.

Kane revealed that Nyang’oro received payment for a class he didn’t teach, which led to a criminal probe and ultimately to Nyang’oro’s cooperation with the investigation by former prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein.

Kane’s reporting was confirmed in the report Wainstein released this week. Wainstein started his investigation by reading our stories.

Kane’s work was “incredibly thorough,” he told me. “I can tell you Dan’s work helped push our investigation forward in its early stages. His reporting played a large role in keeping a focus on the issues, on asking the difficult questions, often the non-obvious questions that were lurking in the body of public knowledge but others weren’t really focused on. It was those questions that helped the university focus on the need to inquire further.”

Tough and dogged

Peter Hans until recently was chairman of the UNC Board of Governors, which oversees the university system. Hans said at times he found N&O stories repetitive and that “the focus on the negative obscured a lot of good stories happening in Chapel Hill and across the university system.”

But he said Kane’s stories helped to get to the bottom of the scandal. Hans describes Kane as tough and dogged.

“I hated the story because it reflected poorly on the university,” said Hans, a 1991 UNC graduate. “But you had to listen. There’s an obligation to get to the bottom of this. Dan’s reporting and questions to me helped persuade me personally that there was more to this story than we’d been told.”

Kane worked this story under great pressure from UNC fans. Twice, we called police when that criticism crossed a line into implied physical violence.

The threats didn’t deter Kane. He continued to ask the questions that needed to be asked, a fine reporter doing his job and doing it well.

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