Judge Says UNC Must Open Some Football Probe Records

A Superior Court judge has ruled in a lawsuit filed by a consortium of media groups that the University must open records on phone calls and parking tickets related to an investigation of the football program by UNC and the NCAA.

In a memorandum in advance of his ruling, Judge Howard Manning Jr. ’65 said UNC did not have to release the names of tutors in its athletics department. The memo also said he had not yet ruled on whether the University has to open all records of the investigation to public scrutiny. On May 12 Manning entered an order, making the ruling official.

Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 said the University would appeal the ruling and seek a stay of the lawsuit. “Our responsibility is to protect the privacy rights of all of our students, whether they’re on the football team, in the marching band or in a chemistry 101 class,” Thorp said. “So this is really not about the football investigation. If this ruling were to stand, it would put the privacy rights of all of our students at risk.”

The investigation into the Carolina football program, involving improper player contacts with professional sports agents and other outsiders and academic misconduct, is in its ninth month. The University is waiting to find out whether it will receive sanctions from the NCAA.

The University had cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, in protecting the records. Manning’s memo says, “FERPA does not provide a student with an invisible cloak so that the student can remain hidden from public view while enrolled at UNC. The telephone number is not part of the education record protected by FERPA.”

The memo also said parking ticket records were not among education records protected by FERPA.

“We are pleased that Judge Manning appears to have affirmed the privacy of student tutors,” Thorp said in April. “We are disappointed with the court’s apparent interpretation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as it applies to student records related to phone numbers and parking tickets. This has far-reaching implications for all of our students and their records that we believe federal law protects. When the judge’s instructions are finalized in an order, the University will review the ruling and evaluate its options for appeal.”

The media groups have asked for:

All documents and records of any UNC investigation of misconduct by any football coach, player, sports agent, UNC booster or academic tutor;

Unredacted phone numbers on bills for phones used by Athletics Director Dick Baddour ’66, Coach Butch Davis and former Assistant Coach John Blake;

Parking tickets issued at UNC to 11 football players; and

Names, employment dates and compensation to athletics tutors and mentors since Jan. 1, 2007.

In his statement, Thorp said UNC has provided more than 23,000 pages of documents to the media groups, which include The News & Observer of Raleigh, The Charlotte Observer, The Daily Tar Heel and broadcast outlets.

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