Investigator gives insight to scope of UNC probe

Jun. 20, 2014 @ 12:47 PM

During the past five months, former federal prosecutor Ken Wainstein and his team have interviewed 80 people, searched 1.5 million emails and electronic documents and analyzed thousands of transcripts – some dating back to the 1980s.
“We’re in the thick of it,” Wainstein told the University of North Carolina Board of Governors during a high-level briefing Friday. “It’s impossible to give an exact timeframe (for when the investigation will end). We think it’s important to do it thoroughly and do it right.”
He said he hopes to have a report, which will be released to the public, complete by fall.
Wainstein, hired in February to conduct an independent investigation into academic irregularities at UNC Chapel Hill – especially as they pertain to student-athletes -- didn’t offer factual findings during the briefing. However, he did share a sense of the probe’s scope and areas of inquiry.
Some questions asked include:
- What were the so-called “paper classes”? How did they deviate from traditional independent study classes? Who was behind their approval and creation?
- Did students in those classes actually perform classwork and earn their grades? Did they interact with professors? Or was a passing grade given for no work done?
- What role did the athletics department play in relation to the classes? Did they encourage athletes to take such classes for easier grades or to keep them eligible to play basketball or football?
“Those are the issue areas we’re looking at,” Wainstein said. “I’m happy to say we’ve made a lot of progress.”
Tom Ross, president of the UNC system, reassured the board Friday that Chapel Hill is keeping hands off the investigation and letting Wainstein “follow the facts wherever they lead.”
“We have not and do not direct the details of his work and we’re not informed of specific details of the investigation,” Ross said.
Wainstein concurred: “While the university and its staff have been an important resource, the university is not part of the investigative team.”
Ross and Chancellor Carol Folt asked Wainstein to give a briefing after hearing “considerable public speculation” about the scope, breadth and investment of time into the investigation.
In other board action Friday:

  • Members approved contingent out-of-state undergraduate tuition increases to cover an anticipated $27 million in budget cuts from the state General Assembly. Non-resident students at UNC Chapel Hill, as an example, could pay 11.7 percent more, while the board holds the line on in-state student tuition. No increase would be anticipated if state legislators relent on the cuts when they vote on a final budget before July 1.
  • Members paid tribute to Sgt. Kyle White, a Medal of Honor recipient and graduate of UNC Charlotte. White was part of Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne) in November 2007 when he was ambushed along with other members of his platoon in Afghanistan.
  • John Fennebresque, a partner and vice chairman of the McGuireWoods law firm in Charlotte, starts his two-year term as chairman of the UNC Board of Governors on July 1.  He succeeds Peter Hans, who gave some parting words as chair to the board on Friday: “This has been a period of progress; a bridge to a better time. In moments of frustration, it’s important to think that, step by step, we’re moving in the right direction.”

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