UNC Launching New Inquiry With Outside Counsel

The University announced Friday afternoon that UNC System President Tom Ross ’75 (JD) and Chancellor Carol L. Folt have retained an outside attorney to conduct an independent inquiry of academic irregularities at Carolina based on new information that may become available.

In a news release, the University said it has remained in contact with Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall ’82 (AB, ’85 JD) throughout his investigation of potential criminal activity connected to course irregularities in UNC’s former department of African and Afro-American studies. According to the release, Woodall has indicated that he will cooperate with the inquiry and that he can now share with the independent counsel as much information acquired by his office during the criminal investigation as determined to be appropriate. Woodall relied on the SBI to help determine whether criminal activity had occurred.

Ross and Folt, on behalf of the University, jointly decided to retain Kenneth L. Wainstein, a 19-year veteran of the U.S. Justice Department, as an independent counsel to conduct the inquiry. Wainstein, a partner with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP in Washington, D.C., has served as general counsel and chief of staff to the FBI and was twice nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for leadership positions in the Justice Department. In 2004, he was appointed the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., where he oversaw the investigation and prosecution of high-profile white-collar cases. In 2006, he was confirmed as the first assistant attorney general for national security; in 2008, he was named homeland security adviser by Bush.

Based on information that the district attorney is able to offer, Wainstein will take any further steps necessary to address any questions left unanswered during previous reviews commissioned by the University. While there is no set timetable for completing the inquiry, the University said it would cooperate fully with Wainstein and ensure he has the full access he needs to complete his work. He will produce a written report, which will be made public.

Wainstein notified Ross and Folt that he will charge $990 per hour for his time and that three associates will bill the University at $775, $535 and $450 per hour. The University will pay for the uinvestigation from funds not associated with taxpayer money or tuition fees.

“We — the UNC [System] Board of Governors, UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, Chancellor Folt and I — have said all along that we would re-evaluate next steps once the SBI had completed its investigation,” Ross said. “Thanks to the cooperation of District Attorney Woodall, the University may now have access to additional information needed to address any remaining questions and bring this matter to closure. Chancellor Folt and I felt strongly that this would best be handled by bringing in the outside, independent perspective of an experienced professional like Ken Wainstein.”

Folt said: “We have directed Mr. Wainstein to ask the tough questions, follow the facts wherever they lead and get the job done. I have quickly grown to admire the extent to which the Carolina community has encouraged me to look within the University, to identify challenges and to take strong actions to address them. I believe these efforts will accelerate the University’s capacity to achieve the meaningful academic and athletic reform that our entire community expects.”

Wainstein said: “I look forward to working closely with the University community to develop a full understanding of the facts and to provide an independent and comprehensive assessment of those facts for the University and the public.”

In early December, the AFAM department’s former and longtime chair, Julius Nyang’oro, was indicted by a grand jury on a felony charge of obtaining property by false pretenses — specifically, taking $12,000 in pay despite not showing up to teach a class.

Nyang’oro, who was forced to resign as chair and subsequently retired, had been found in multiple investigations to be at the source of a long-term practice of giving good grades in courses that were heavily populated by varsity athletes and that involved little academic work.

Nyang’oro has promised to profess his innocence; his first court appearance is scheduled for April 29.

Woodall said in December that there could be a second indictment in the case. He said the person being investigated is not currently a University employee.

A few weeks later, in early January, several national news organizations — including The New York Times and CNN — began covering various angles of the story; the Times focused on Nyang’oro’s indictment, and CNN featured UNC in a report of its investigation into reading ability of athletes across the country. That helped bring UNC’s long-running story to a more national audience. In mid-January, Folt spoke out forcefully to the Faculty Council: “We are really going to talk very specifically about the recent reports in the media. I think I could probably get a bigger audience at this campus than almost any campus in the country to talk about what we do to ensure athletes’ success.

“This has, of course, become very heated. I think it’s important that we reaffirm who we are as an academic community. That’s a community that allows people to disagree with each other, even if the points of view are very extreme.”

A week after the Faculty Council meeting, Folt told UNC’s Board of Trustees that she had assumed the responsibility for the ongoing investigation and for reform of the system.

“We … accept the fact that there was a failure in academic oversight for years that permitted this to continue,” Folt said. “This, too, was wrong and it has undermined our integrity and our reputation and it’s created a very unhealthy atmosphere of distrust.

“I think we all know that to move forward, we have to make sure that everyone understands that we actually do feel accountable and that we’re going to learn from that painful history. And although I believe we’re still in the early stages of reform, we have made significant changes in academic policies and new procedures that are making real differences.”

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