Thursday, November 3, 2016

Tarnished Heels -- Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Fifteen
Martin report released; immediate criticism and debunking;
Baker-Tilly’s retraction

            On December 20, 2012, former Governor Jim Martin released a report of the findings that resulted from a three-plus month investigation into academic fraud at UNC.  The basics were that more than 200 lecture-style classes were either confirmed or suspected of having never met; dozens of independent study classes had little or no supervision; and ultimately there would be 560 suspicious grade changes revealed that dated as far back as 1994.  The biggest – and most important to UNC – proclamation by Martin, however, was that it was not an athletics scandal, but an academic one.
            That infamous quote would be well documented in the days and weeks to come: “This was not an athletic scandal.  It was an academic scandal, which is worse.”  What was not addressed was “for whom” it was worse.  The school’s academic reputation?  Perhaps.  But worse for the school’s athletics programs?  Definitely not.  The atmosphere in the room when Martin made the statement told unaffiliated onlookers all they needed to know.  There were smiles around the table amongst the school’s Board of Trustees, and congratulations could be heard.  Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham said, “I feel like it’s now complete.  This report has been very thorough, an exhaustive study.  From that standpoint, we’ve been looking for closure, and I hope this gives us the closure we’ve been looking for.”  Just how exhaustive and complete the report actually was, however, would soon be brought under scrutiny.
            An article that appeared on on the afternoon of Martin’s report provided more details of his findings.   The investigation conducted by Martin and members of the Baker Tilly company found 216 classes with proven or potential problems.  Both athletes and non-athletes benefitted from those classes, Martin said, which would ultimately be a convenient way around certain NCAA bylaws.  “The athletic department, coaches and players did not create this,” the former Governor told the UNC Board of Trustees.  “It was not in their jurisdiction, it was the academic side.”  Martin also told the board he found no evidence that any coaches knew anything about the irregularities.  However, it would later be shown that very little research was done to that end.  An NCAA spokesperson did not immediately respond to an ESPN email seeking comment on the matter.
* * *
            The Raleigh News and Observer published an article of its own late on the day of Martin’s report, and immediately began to question some of the findings.  The title of the article was “In the wake of Martin report, what will the NCAA do?” and it provided insight from several experts with deep knowledge of the NCAA and its rules.  Up to that point NCAA officials had taken no action following a string of athletic/academic-related revelations encompassing the university, instead having only said that they were monitoring the developments.  Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham said, “(The report) showed the same irregularities that went back further, but it didn’t show that there was anything directly related to athletics.”  He was then quick to point out one of the university’s oft-repeated talking points: “Certainly there were student athletes involved in classes as were a lot of other groups.”
            While Martin and those associated with the school were telling all who would listen that it “was not an athletic scandal,” parties not affiliated with the university were not so sure.  David Ridpath, an Ohio University professor, was a former university compliance officer and an expert in litigation involving college sports issues.  In an email he wrote to the News and Observer he said that the NCAA’s inaction at UNC had been “unconscionable.”  Ridpath continued, “I go back to the ‘but for’ test.  This fraud would not have happened but for the athletes, many of whom were not prepared to do college level work.”  As documents released several months later would reveal, athletes likely were the reason the fraud was originally conceived.  Those were documents Martin and his team had apparently missed, though.
            Michael Buckner was a Florida lawyer who advised universities in NCAA probes.  He said that NCAA rules were broken if an athlete was kept eligible through any type of academic fraud.  “The NCAA may request specific information on the involvement of student athletes in the illicit activities,” Buckner said.  Martin’s report, however, didn’t show how many unauthorized grade changes benefitted athletes, for example.  Chancellor Holden Thorp declined to address whether UNC had examined whether any of its athletes were kept eligible as a result of the grade changes and other misconduct.  He would only say that Martin’s report had been sent to the NCAA.  Ridpath and Buckner were only two of several experts that the N&O asked to evaluate the report.  All said that the NCAA should look deeper, but they expressed some doubts whether the Association actually would.
            Gerald Gurney, a professor at the University of Oklahoma and the past president of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics, told the newspaper: “The findings show that these ‘anomalies’ existed over a long period of time, covered basketball as well as football, was systematic and pervasive.  I was also struck by the number of grade changes.  Did the changes help to establish athletic eligibility?”  Dick Baddour, the school’s former athletics director who had resigned earlier in 2012, continued to convey some of the school’s PR messages, though.  “Given the thoroughness of (the report), it’s time to move on,” Baddour said.  “I don’t expect (the NCAA) to raise additional issues.”
* * *
            The News and Observer released two more articles – one feature and one editorial – the next day, December 21, 2012.  More questions were asked, and more doubts were raised.  The feature article, written by investigative reporter J. Andrew Curless, said that Martin’s report was notable for what wasn’t in it, as there were gaps and unanswered questions because the scope of Martin’s work was limited.  Furthermore, Martin said that he and two consultants who had assisted him had run out of time.  This was a peculiar statement for him to make, because there had never before been a specified time limitation on the investigation.  In fact, when data was brought to his attention two weeks earlier by the newspaper, Martin said it would likely be information he would pursue, “even if it takes us past December 20,”  That certainly did not sound like the type of quote that would come from someone who had a strict time limit put upon his work. 
            There were numerous seemingly vital topics that were not covered in depth in his report.  He got no information from the people he held responsible – Nyang’oro and Crowder – simply because they refused to speak to him.  Martin said he checked some of their email messages, but that he did not review phone logs.  In terms of investigative protocol that was an odd course of action, as those two supposedly held the answers to years of academic fraud.  Why would one not thoroughly check the records of a man who had since 1992 been the chairman of the affected department, or the records of a woman who had since 1979 worked at the university and been close to athletics?
            According to the News and Observer article, Martin did not interview any current or former basketball players or coaches – despite the fact that there were more independent study courses taken by basketball players in the years 2001 through 2006 (39), than there were actual scholarship players on the team.  And despite the fact that Roy Williams had brought his own academic advisor from Kansas – Wayne Walden – who had personally overseen the scheduling of courses for all the basketball players.  And despite the fact that Walden’s replacement – Jennifer Townsend – had been appalled at the no-show courses that the basketball team had been taking a part of, according to insider Mary Willingham.  Instead, Martin said he didn’t think he would learn information from talking to others that hadn’t been obtained elsewhere, or that wasn’t already known.
Martin’s review also didn’t include inspection of individual student transcripts – even though the effects of the fraudulent courses on an athlete’s eligibility could have easily been determined through those reviews.  He gave only brief mention to questions of plagiarism, saying:  “This review was not intended to make academic judgments about whether plagiarism occurred.”  Furthermore, Martin said he did not study the actual work of students in the courses he identified as irregular.  He noted in his report than an earlier university review of suspect classes had not found instances of students receiving grades without doing work, and that was “an aspect that was outside the scope of this review.”  Essentially, while there may have been fake grades, plagiarism, and no legitimate work turned in, the message was that those weren’t things his review team had been interested in.
As was pointed out in various realms of online media, the report was received warmly by many members of the school’s Board of Trustees.  The N&O also mentioned Joy Renner, the chair of the Faculty Athletics Committee.  She said, “I’m a very skeptical person by nature, so I kind of like to see data, and I like to know what’s real and not real.  So I think I can feel good about moving forward, that this was more isolated.”  Unfortunately, some of the data she referred to was incomplete and/or erroneous, as would be shown in the near future.
Mary Willingham, the UNC academic support employee who had come forward a month earlier with assertions of long-time cheating within athletics at the university, told the News and Observer that she was disappointed that Martin’s report never addressed why athletes were in those classes.  She sat in the room as Martin spoke to the trustees, the paper wrote, but walked out when he started talking about the broader topic of grade inflation at UNC and other universities.  “He did the who, what, where, I guess, but he never answered the why,” Willingham said.  “He had the opportunity to expose that, and I think intentionally he chose not to do it because I don’t think he wanted to expose the corruption of the NCAA and the athletic program.”
Raina Rose Tagle, a partner in the firm Baker Tilly which assisted Martin, spoke to members of the Board of Governors.  She said, “We did what we could.  And now that we’ve reached our conclusions, I think it could sound like we are championing on behalf of the university.  But I think what we’re doing is, we’re saying ‘This is what we did, and this is what we found.  And it is what it is.’”  Just over a month later, however, Ms. Tagle and her firm would alter their official stance. 
* * *
The editorial that was featured in the News and Observer on December 21, 2012, was similar in theme.  Written by staff columnist Luke DeCock, it pointed out the narrow scope of Martin’s review.  It stated that “Martin did not discern any connection to athletics despite considerable anecdotal evidence, but given the methods used (by Martin), that was unlikely anyway.”  As mentioned earlier by Thorp and other university officials, Martin supposedly had “unfettered access to University systems, records, and personnel.”  However, Martin chose to use very few of those resources, and instead “relied heavily and almost exclusively on statistical analysis and interviews with cooperating parties.”  Martin inexplicably rejected the analysis of phone records, dismissed any thorough examination of email correspondence, and declined to interview any current or former basketball players.  As stated earlier, Martin had said, “My opinion was basketball players wouldn’t tell us anything we didn’t know from other sources.”  As the editorial pointed out, that wasn’t exactly leaving no stone unturned.
The editorial also pointed out another instance of the “looking forward” talking point the university continued to employ.  It said that Martin and the members of Baker Tilly were able to give the university a blueprint for corrective action and prevention.  However, the real questions – those with serious implications – remained:  Who orchestrated the fraud?  Why did it happen?  And how did so many athletes end up in the suspect classes?  “You can have a lot of theories and hypothesis about this,” Martin said, “but in order to come up with some kind of condemnation you have to have some evidence.”  Such evidence, unfortunately, was not aggressively sought by Martin and his team.  Whether that was by design or due to a lack of investigative prowess was a matter of opinion.
* * *
An article from the News and Observer on December 22, 2012, highlighted a “battle over two cultures” at UNC – academics and athletics.  The media had begun to pick up on the public-relations messages coming from the school.  The article observed that after the release of Martin’s report, the mantra of everyone at UNC was “moving forward”.  While seemingly every leader at UNC wanted to avoid uncovering too much about the past, not all of the power figures within the school agreed upon the specifics of the forward motion, however.  Chancellor Thorp had said several months earlier that the university would look to implement plans for tougher admissions standards for athletics.  A few weeks following that proclamation, though, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams had contradicted Thorp’s statement when he said he did not think UNC would jump ahead of others.  Apparently Williams objected to holding a certain subset of athletes to lofty new guidelines.  Following the difference of opinions, Thorp said only, “We’re working on a plan we can all agree on.”
* * *
The local North Carolina media wasn’t the only faction to cry foul after the release of Martin’s limited analysis of UNC’s athletic/academic scandal.  Across the nation multiple national media entities conveyed similar feelings.  One in particular came from David Whitley of  In a December 22, 2012, article, he decried Martin’s report as being every bit as scandalous as the actual events that had transpired at UNC for years.  It portrayed what many across the country were saying, and often did it in a mocking fashion. 
Whitley said, “If you guys ever take another look at North Carolina’s academic scandal, don’t ask school investigators about (Julius) Peppers or any other player.  Based on the latest report, sports had nothing to do with the scholastic shenanigans.”  The article continued with its condemnation of the Martin report, repeating the former Governor’s proclamation that it was not an athletic scandal, but an academic one.  “UNC would like you to believe you can have one without the other,” Whitley wrote.  “It is determined not to look like some Jock Factory that cares more about dunking than microbiology.  It sure doesn’t want the NCAA back sniffing around.  Though all noses shut down whenever they get within a mile of (the) Dean Smith Center.”
Like the local News and Observer newspaper, Whitley also pointed out that Martin failed to look for true evidence, and that the report failed to address key questions that had circulated since the scandal had expanded earlier in the year.  Martin’s report said that athletics department counselors didn’t knowingly funnel athletes into the fraudulent courses.  Whitley then chided that they probably never noticed how players like Peppers would get F’s in other departments, but suddenly “turned into an Academic All American” once they enrolled in AFAM courses.  Again stating the painfully obvious, the writer said there was no telling how many other “Peppers” there had been over the past 15 years, as Martin’s team didn’t check athlete transcripts or interview any current or former players.
Whitley said the results of Martin’s limited review “means UNC can now try to put a neat bow on the scandal and tell everybody to just move along.”  He closed by giving some pointed comparisons to UNC’s situation and a previous academic scandal at Florida State University, one which included far fewer athletes over a much shorter time frame.  Whitley said, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that’s an academic and athletic scandal (at UNC).  … Peppers did not major in rocket science.  Neither, it seems, did UNC investigators.”
* * *
On December 29, 2012, just over a week after the review’s release, a fact-based debunking of some of Martin’s findings would begin.  An article that appeared in the News and Observer reported that minutes from several Faculty Athletic Committee meetings failed to confirm details that were included in Martin’s review.  Martin had said athletics officials had tried to raise red flags about questionable AFAM courses in both 2002 and 2006.  That apparently was not the case.  Dr. Stanley Mandel, a medical school professor who was committee chairman in 2002, said: “You won’t find any reference to it in the committee minutes because there was no reference to it.  There was no discussion.  Nothing was brought up.”  Furthermore, Dr. Desmond Runyan, a former social medicine professor who was on the committee in 2006 and 2007, said he never heard anything negative regarding athletics and academics.  “It seemed like everyone around the table was congratulating themselves about what a squeaky clean program they had,” he said.
The lack of confirmation from both the meeting minutes and also from actual members of the committee had major implications.  Martin’s stance that athletic officials tried to alert the committee was critical to the university’s efforts to convince the NCAA that there were no violations related to an academic fraud that had spanned over 15 years, the newspaper said.  In essence, such a claim would have protected the athletics department, as they would have (presumably) raised concerns only to be told not to worry about them.  Now, however, data had been produced to directly counter those statements by Martin and his team.
Upon a closer inspection of Martin’s report, it was discovered that his team had only interviewed one person who had been on the Faculty Athletics Committee – business professor Jack Evans, who was ironically the university’s long-time faculty representative to the NCAA.  The newspaper said Evans took the minutes of the meetings in 2002, 2006, and early 2007.  He declined to talk to the N&O about what happened on the committee, or what he told Martin.  The former governor said in an interview with the newspaper that he had based his findings on interviews with Evans, the former director of athletics, Dick Baddour, and associate athletics director, John Blanchard, former academic director, Robert Mercer, Chancellor Holden Thorp, and faculty member, Laurie Maffly-Kipp.  Five of those six people had direct ties to UNC athletics and/or the NCAA.  Maffly-Kipp, the sixth, was one of three faculty members who authored a special report on academic fraud that had been released earlier in 2012.
It would eventually be revealed that Maffly-Kipp received much of the information that had been included in that July, 2012, report not from the actual minutes from the 2002 and 2006/07 meetings, but instead the information was “paraphrasing what we heard from Thorp that had transpired there,” according to email correspondence with the newspaper.  So while she was the lone interviewee by Martin who was not directly connected to athletics, she had apparently gotten her information second-hand – directly from the chancellor.  Thorp could not be reached for comment, but a spokeswoman said Thorp provided the meeting minutes to Maffly-Kipp’s committee.  Along with Evans and Thorp, none of the others—Mercer, Baddour, or Blanchard could be reached for an interview, either.  The contradictions were puzzling, to say the least.  With members of UNC’s leadership refusing to speak and clear up the matter, it was hard to know who was being truthful. 
            Despite all of the contradictions to a very key component of his report, Martin told the N&O that he still stood by his findings.  He offered one additional vote of support: Law professor Lissa Broome, who replaced Evans as the NCAA faculty representative in 2010, was chairman of the Faculty Athletics Committee in 2006, and was also a member in 2002.  Martin did not interview Broome for his report, but said she came up to him after his presentation to the Board of Trustees and told him he was “on the mark.”  That would again prove to be the beginning of a contradiction, however.  Broome had told the News and Observer in early December that she did not recall any specific warnings or concerns in the FAC meetings.  Also, on the same day that Martin said she gave him the supportive endorsement, the paper again asked about the committee meetings.  “I just don’t recall myself,” Broome had said.  “I wish I did.”
* * *
            Following the various national media articles mocking his report, and specifically the late-December piece from the News and Observer, former Governor Jim Martin wrote a “letter to the editor” that was published by the N&O on January 2, 2013.  He made several claims in an effort to justify his work and counter the newspaper’s assertions, and did so in a sometimes condescending nature. 
            Martin said that regarding many issues, he and his team dug “as far as our powers allowed.”  He did not, however, discuss the fact that he virtually ignored the emails and phone records of not only former UNC athletic coaches and support personnel (such as Wayne Walden), but also the key figures of Julius Nyang’oro and Deborah Crowder.  Regarding those latter two individuals, Martin said he did not interview them, but “neither did (the N&O’s) excellent reporters.”  He also tried to downplay the potential usefulness of Professor Jay Smith, who had complained of not being asked back for a second interview with Martin.  “My judgment,” Martin said, “was that he was not a useful source”.  In closing, Martin said he had found “answers to the issues we were asked to investigate,” a statement which may have held the key to many of the issues at hand.  What, exactly, had they been asked to investigate – and by whom?  Or more importantly, were there aspects of the scandal they had been told to avoid?  A day later aspects of the former governor’s work – in this case, his letter to the editor – would again be debunked by the newspaper.
* * *
            The rebuttal to Martin would appear on January 3, 2013, from the investigative reporter who had spent the most time on UNC’s past issues: Dan Kane.  Virtually all of the major points that Martin had raised in his letter were countered with facts and data.  On the charge that the newspaper only found three members of the committee who denied concerns were raised by athletic officials, Kane had this to say:  “Readers should know that our stories don’t always include every interview that we do for our reporting.  In this case, we interviewed five members of the 2002 committee who said they either did not recollect such a warning or say it never happened.”  A sixth member briefly said he had no recollection before his wife hung up the telephone.  Regarding the 2006 and 2007 committee meetings, Kane said the newspaper interviewed three faculty members at a November 2006 meeting, as well as the then-Chancellor, James Moeser.  He said four faculty members who were present at a January 2007 meeting were interviewed.  “None remembered being warned about suspect classes,” Kane wrote.  He then clearly re-stated that Martin had interviewed none of those people – not the six from 2002, or the seven different individuals from 2006-07. 
            The issue of Laurie Maffly-Kipp getting her information second-hand from Chancellor Holden Thorp was reiterated.  Regarding John Blanchard, whom had said he twice raised concerns to the committee in 2006 about the independent studies courses (and presumably told Martin those same things), the newspaper asked Blanchard if he had any records or correspondence to back up that assertion.  “He said he had none,” wrote Kane.  In closing, the newspaper posted the minutes of the committee meetings online for its readers to judge for themselves.  That two-day exchange would essentially mark the last major involvement Martin would have in terms of conversing with the media.
* * *
            A brief update on UNC’s scandal was given by NCAA President Mark Emmert in mid-January in response to questions he was asked at the Association’s annual conference.  Based on a January 19, 2013, article in the News and Observer, Emmert said that NCAA interest would hinge on whether the fraudulent scheme particularly benefited athletes.  He did not say, however, whether the NCAA would actually be looking to determine that information itself.
            Emmert said he was troubled by many aspects of the scandal, such as freshman athletes being enrolled in African Studies classes that had been billed as being for experienced students and which did not meet.  “Sure it does,” Emmert said when asked if those types of activities raised a red flag.  “And we will continue to talk more with North Carolina.”  Again left unanswered, though, was why the NCAA would not simply investigate the matter themselves and get the answers firsthand. 
            As had been parroted by the university leaders for the prior six months, their various in-house reviews had claimed the scandal was not about athletics because non-athletes had been enrolled in the bogus AFAM classes as well.  Critics, however, said the NCAA was being shortsighted in ruling out academic fraud investigations based on that point.  Those critics told the N&O that it sent the message that those who want to cheat on academics to help athletes stay eligible to play sports merely need to enroll non-athletes as well.  Gerald Gurney, an expert with various past experiences with academic matters who has been quoted in earlier chapters, said: “If I were to be an athletic academic counselor trying to keep an impact player eligible I would make sure that some equipment manager or some non-athlete were in a course.  That’s a ridiculous argument.” 
            The conflict in reports between athletics officials, Martin, and the Faculty Athletics Committee had also sparked a new controversy.  According to the News and Observer, some faculty members had become concerned that the university had made them scapegoats to prevent the NCAA from investigating.  Lloyd Kramer, the history department chairman who attended the meetings in question, had asked the university’s Faculty Council to take up a resolution that disputed Martin’s finding.
* * *
            Following the tense exchanges between the News and Observer and Martin and the various contradictions of information that were exposed, an article appeared on January 25, 2013, that made an important announcement.  Baker Tilly, the management consulting firm that had helped Martin in his review, withdrew its assertion that athletics officials had raised concerns about independent study courses during meetings in 2002 and 2006.  As stated before, that earlier finding had been significant to Martin’s report because it indicated that those athletics officials had tried to fix what later became known as a major part of an academic scandal.  Raina Rose Tagle of Baker Tilly told a UNC Board of Governors panel that she wanted to “clarify” that finding.  She said the athletics officials “asked a question of the Faculty Athletic Committee as a whole but sort of offline.”  As a result, one of the most significant findings of Martin’s report was deemed incorrect, and was officially no longer included.
* * *
The essential (and unanswered) questions:
-- Why hadn’t Martin’s report shown how many of the 560 unauthorized grade changes since 1994 had benefited athletes and their eligibility?
-- Why did Martin say he and his team had “run out of time” for their investigation, yet only days earlier there hadn’t been any indication of a time limit?
-- Why didn’t Martin thoroughly check the email and phone records of the two individuals he presumed were the cause of the academic fraud?  Was it to avoid discovering intent?
-- Was that the same reason why he didn’t interview any current or former basketball players or coaches?
-- Was that the same reason why he hadn’t inspected any individual student transcripts?
-- Why had Martin interviewed only one member of the past Faculty Athletic Committees, despite meetings from those committees being vital to the validity of his overall findings?
-- There were several stark contradictions between UNC administrators and faculty members.  Who was telling the truth?
-- What, exactly, had Martin and his team been asked to investigate – and by whom?  And more importantly, were there aspects of the scandal they had been told to avoid?
-- Why had the NCAA opted to “continue to talk more with North Carolina” as opposed to simply reopening an investigation and getting some factual answers for itself?