On Thursday, the University announced that it is bringing in a former governor, a national management consulting firm and the president of a prestigious national higher education association to review various aspects of issues related to academic fraud in the African and Afro-American studies department — and to perform a broader review of how the academic affairs of varsity athletes are managed at UNC.
Carolina has engaged former Gov. James Martin to direct a review assisted by Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP, a national management consulting firm with extensive experience in academic performance procedures and controls.
Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 also has appointed Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, to help UNC examine the future relationship between academics and athletics on campus.
On Friday, Thorp spoke with the Review.
Review: Can you speak briefly about the choice of James Martin? What experience does he bring to this review?
Thorp: We were looking for somebody who would have unassailable credentials in North Carolina that people would trust, that when this was completed people would accept the outcome, and we wanted someone who knew the University but wasn’t directly affiliated with the University or had gone here or anything. And Jim Martin was really the only name that came to my mind. Especially as we see the reaction to it that we’ve had in the last 24 hours, I think it was a home-run choice, and when you’re in a position like mine the most important decisions are the ones where you select somebody to help you do something, and this was a big one and a good one, and I’m happy and proud that Jim Martin said he would do this.
Review: How much guidance has he been given?
Thorp: We want him to work with [Baker Tilly Virchow Krause] on what their work plan will be. He’ll be the one who makes the judgments about what they need to look at. He made a comment to the [Associated Press] which is correct, which is he’s been given the freedom to decide what needs to be done.
Review: There has been some talk after the faculty review about going back farther in the records. Have you talked to them about how far you go back?
Thorp: That’s one of the main things we want Governor Martin to decide. I don’t think there’s any logical way for us to say we went back a certain amount of time and have people not question whether we should have gone back further. So asking Governor Martin, who’s objective, to be the person who works on that point, I think is really the only way to assure the public that we’ve done what we need to do.
Review: Obviously the public has a lot of its own perceptions about what goes on in athletics in a big university in general and about what goes on specifically at UNC. What do you hope to be able to tell them after this is done — not in terms of, it’s good or it’s bad, but what types of things do you hope to be able to tell them?
Thorp: I think we want to be able to tell people what happened. We’ve said what we think happened, what we found with Julius Nyang’oro and Debbie Crowder [Nyang’oro’s office assistant, who also has been implicated in the acts of fraud], so you want to make sure people feel that that was the thing we needed to find. And we want to tell them how we’re going to keep it from happening again. As you can see, we’ve got procedures in place, but we’ve also asked [Baker Tilly Virchow Krause] to certify that, and we want to assure them that we’ve done what we need to do to make sure this kind thing doesn’t happen again.
Review: Is it your intent to divorce academics advising from the athletics department?
Thorp: I don’t think that’s possible as long as the students are athletes, but we want to make sure that [the College of] arts and sciences controls personnel decisions that are made there, and that they control the budget and that they control the way that folks in the academic center [for athletes] carry out their work, and ensuring that when students register for classes they do it by the same procedures as any other students. That’s why we adding additional advisers in Steele Building [where general academic advising is housed] to take care of that
Review: Is there a budget set aside for this? Any estimate of the cost?
Thorp: We haven’t completed the contract. (Thorp said he had no cost estimate.)
Review: Where will the money to pay for these reviews come from?
Thorp: It’ll be from nonstate resources. (Asked to elaborate, Thorp said he didn’t know about the specific sources yet.)
Review: What’s the time frame for completion?
Thorp: We hope weeks. I think it’ll be maybe two weeks before we get [Baker Tilly Virchow Krause] and Governor Martin up and running. Obviously we want to get to the other side of this as quickly as we can.
Review: One face the public has been able to put on this is the 2011 summer school class whose enrollment was 19 football players. What do you know about the genesis and evolution of that class now?
Thorp: There’s been a lot of discussion about that. It was set up at the last minute by the department, but that’s not entirely unusual, and it was initially, as was shown in the email that was released — they initially thought only a few students would be in it. Beyond that, I don’t think I know a whole lot more.
Review: What do you know now about the posted transcript with Julius Peppers’ name on it? What happened there?
Thorp: I can’t confirm that it’s Julius’ transcript or the transcript of any other student, and I’ve asked a group to look into how it got there, and they’ll report back to me, and I don’t have the report yet. [In late August, a UNC official reported that the unauthorized publication of Peppers’ academic transcript on a UNC website resulted from a mistake by an internal computing staff person.]
Review: What’s your estimate of the percentage of your working time you’ve spent on this since the Nyang’oro issue surfaced?
Thorp: You know, obviously it’s taken up a lot of our attention, and it should because it’s important, and a threat to the things we hold dear at Carolina. But the University continues to do very well. We had a great year in fundraising — $331 million in gifts is unbelievably good. Grants are fantastic at $767 [million, referencing research grants from various sources]. Faculty retention is back to where it was before the financial crisis — we’re retaining 60 to 70 percent of the faculty who are getting outside offers. We’re welcoming the most qualified class selected from the most qualified applicants we’ve ever had, so I think the good news is that Carolina is doing well. We know we need to get past this so we can go back to talking about what we’re doing well, but obviously the University is still getting the job done on other fronts.
Review: What are you hearing from the general public about the situation and how it’s being handled?
Thorp: We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from the announcements that we made yesterday. The general impression over the last three months is one of concern, and people are upset that this happened, but I think there’s also a lot of perspective out there that there are a lot of student-athletes who are doing a great job, and there are thousands and thousands of Carolina students that are getting a great education, and that most faculty are doing a wonderful job. All faculty except the one we identified [Nyang’oro] are doing a good job, and this is still a great place. The students who are moving in right now are probably not thinking about this too much. They’re excited to be here to go to college.