Luke DeCock

DeCock: Martin report narrow in scope, limited in utility

Former Governor Jim Martin listens to a question on his report on UNC athletics at a UNC system Board of Governors Academic Review Panel meeting held in Chapel Hill, NC on Dec. 20, 2012
Former Governor Jim Martin listens to a question on his report on UNC athletics at a UNC system Board of Governors Academic Review Panel meeting held in Chapel Hill, NC on Dec. 20, 2012

For all the anticipation that accompanied its release Thursday, former Gov. Jim Martin’s report into academic fraud at the University of North Carolina is narrow in scope and limited in utility. It is not the whitewash or cover-up some will surely accuse it of being any more than it is the comprehensive inquiry North Carolina would like it to be. It is merely incomplete, a window into one specific kind of fraud in one specific department.

By placing the blame on former Department of African and Afro-American Studies chairman Julius Nyang’oro and former department administrator Deborah Crowder, the Martin report compartmentalizes the fraud in one department, wrapping it up in a neat tidy bundle, laying the institutional responsibility squarely at the feet of two former employees who both refused to cooperate with the investigation.

“Two people who went sideways,” Board of Trustees chairman Wade Hargrove noted Thursday. “It’s painful but reassuring.”

In that respect, Martin’s investigation resembles the investigation of the football program, which laid the bulk of the institutional responsibility squarely at the feet of John Blake and Jennifer Wiley, two former employees who refused to cooperate with the investigation.

What Martin’s report does well, it does very well: It examines and outlines the academic fraud that took place within the department going back to 1997. The investigation exhaustively searched the rest of the university for patterns that would suggest similar types of fraud. It followed up on potential irregularities in six other departments. It found none.

Martin did not discern any connection to athletics despite considerable anecdotal evidence, but given the methods used, that was unlikely anyway. The investigation, with “unfettered access to University systems, records and personnel,” relied heavily and almost exclusively on statistical analysis and interviews with cooperating parties.

Martin’s calls to Nyang’oro and Crowder went unanswered. They remain silent. Martin rejected the analysis of phone records, dismissed any examination of email correspondence and declined to interview any current or former basketball players.

“My opinion was basketball players wouldn’t tell us anything we didn’t know from other sources,” Martin said.

That’s not exactly leaving no stone unturned.

Was there academic fraud in Nyang’oro’s department? Of course there was. That was absolutely clear before anyone picked up the phone to give Martin a ring. Martin was able to determine that specific type of fraud was limited to that department and determine the extent of it.

Then, along with the consulting firm Baker Tilly, Martin was able to give the university a blueprint for corrective action and prevention. To the extent that was the goal, mission accomplished.

But there remain real questions with serious implications: Who orchestrated that fraud? Why did it happen? And how did so many athletes end up in the suspect classes?

Those questions remain unanswered. Martin advanced a theory that the fraud was designed to boost enrollment in the nascent department, albeit without any evidence to support that claim.

“You can have a lot of theories and hypotheses about this, but in order to come up with some kind of condemnation you have to have some evidence,” Martin said.

Later, Martin added: “You can speculate. I’m sure the district attorney is speculating. But he has access we don’t have.”

Orange County district attorney Jim Woodall was listed among those interviewed for the report. Perhaps he’ll be able to get to the “who,” “why” and “how” behind what was going on in AFAM. Martin only got to the “what.”

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