News & Observer editor: We’re proud of our reporting on the UNC academic scandal

Letter to Romenesko

From JOHN DRESCHER, executive editor, The News & Observer, Raleigh, NC: We were surprised to see a report on your site [“Why bother pulling your Forbes piece, Darren?”] challenging our reporting on the UNC academic scandal. We would have expected to be contacted to discuss this in advance, and so we offer this response:

John Drescher

John Drescher

We won’t attempt to speak for the Forbes.com blog post, other than to say that the blogger posted an item that largely resembled what we had reported Dec. 30, without any attribution. Former Gov. Jim Martin apparently found it and leveled criticisms at the blogger for basing his post on our story, and then the blogger took the item down.

While we do like to have our work attributed to us, it’s understandable that a reporter would refer to our work on this story. The News & Observer, and particularly reporter Dan Kane, has led the reporting on it at every turn. Had it not been for our work over the past two years, there would have been no discovery of the bogus classes at UNC-Chapel Hill, no resignation of the African studies department chairman and no Martin report.

As to our work that has led to this most recent dust-up, our story on Dec. 30 challenged a critical finding of the Martin report: that athletic officials and academic support officials had warned of courses in one department that were supposed to be lecture courses but never met.

Here is a link to that story.

Gov. Martin wrote a letter to the editor that we published online on Jan. 2 and in print on Jan. 3 that was critical of our report. You can find that here.

And we responded to every point he made in an investigations blog item that you can find here. /LETTER CONTINUES

The critical question in this story is whether athletic and academic support officials warned a faculty committee about problems with independent study courses and others that were advertised as lectures but actually required only a term paper. The minutes of meetings from 2002, 2006 and 2007 show general discussion about independent study and about clustering of athletes in certain academic majors. But the minutes do not show any athletic or academic support officials voicing a warning or concern. We posted the minutes online so anyone could read them.

Jim Martin

Jim Martin

If anything, the minutes indicate the athletic department’s general satisfaction with the classes taken by athletes. The minutes from the Jan. 2007 meeting say: “The discussion then shifted from majors to individual courses and the question of whether any concentrations of student-athletes tend to occur. No sense exists of a current problem.” Three members of the athletic department (and the director of academic support for athletes) were at the meeting and, according to the minutes, did not raise a concern about athletes crowding into certain courses.

Martin’s characterizations of the discussions at the faculty committee are overly broad, and they rely primarily on the word of people tied to the athletic department.

Consider what he says about Dr. Stanley Mandel, the chairman of the faculty committee in 2002. Martin says that Mandel, in our story, said the committee didn’t discuss independent studies, and discounts his version.

That’s not what Mandel said. He said neither athletic officials nor academic support officials raised red flags about suspect classes in the African and Afro-American studies department. He wasn’t denying that independent studies were discussed.

Gov. Martin says he has four witnesses who say the warnings occurred to our one (Mandel) who says they didn’t. What he doesn’t say is that Kane talked to others who served on that committee in 2002 and 2006 when the discussions about independent studies took place. None of eight committee members interviewed by Kane remembers being warned about classes that didn’t meet or an abuse of independent studies in that department. That group includes the former chancellor, who attended one of the meetings in 2006.

Gov. Martin’s four witnesses are the former athletics director, a senior associate athletics director, the former director of the academic support program for athletes, and the former longtime faculty NCAA representative. Kane either talked to them or made efforts to reach them, and his story reflects that.

Dan Kane

Dan Kane

Gov. Martin and his team from the Baker Tilly auditing firm never talked to Mandel or the chairman of the committee in 2006 for his report. (He now says the 2006 chairman, who is the current NCAA representative, backs him, but she twice told Kane she does not recollect any warnings.) He didn’t interview any of the faculty members except for the NCAA representative. He never interviewed the former chancellor.

You don’t have to be a journalist to grasp what this means. Gov. Martin never talked to the people he blames for dropping the ball.

Martin and the Baker Tilly team were obligated to interview several members of the Faculty Committee on Athletics for two reasons:

1. To make every effort to get to the truth; and
2. To give members of the committee a chance to respond to charges they had been warned of possible academic abuse.

Yet Martin did not do so. Instead he stated as fact that the academic support staff brought to the committee “their concerns about students taking nominally lecture courses that did not meet and only required one 20-page term paper, and other forms of questionable independent study.”

Martin did not investigate fully and omitted necessary attribution. If he had investigated properly, Martin would have concluded: “Leaders of Academic Support for Student Athletes say they brought concerns about some classes to the Faculty Athletic Committee but eight committee members dispute that. The minutes are inconclusive.”

We are proud of our work on these stories. We hope that you’ll share this with your readers with the same prominence you gave to the disappearance of the Forbes.com post.

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