When Carol Folt said nine UNC-Chapel Hill employees would be fired or disciplined for their role in a long-running academic scandal, she didn’t add a taunt to the public: See if you can figure out who.
Nevertheless, the chancellor and her subordinates won’t give out that information. Their refusal to comply with the law prompted the News & Record and other media organizations to file a suit demanding disclosure.
The next day, UNC released the name of one fired employee, former academic counselor Jamie Lee. That’s a start.
This isn’t only about the law. It’s a matter of accountability. Former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein’s report named a number of faculty and staff members who knew or should have known that students were enrolled in “paper” classes for which they did little work yet received good grades. The purpose was to keep athletes academically eligible for competition.
Little punishment has been handed out for this fraudulent activity. The principal architect of the scheme, an administrator in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, retired in 2009. The department’s chairman was allowed to retire in 2012, even after many details of the scandal were known. What of other individuals?
People who work for a state university are public employees. Among information that must be disclosed is any demotion, suspension or dismissal, as well as the reasons for dismissal.
The university contends that, while appeals of disciplinary actions are ongoing, the information isn’t subject to release. However, in September UNCG said it fired three employees in its University Relations Department, although their appeals were pending. UNCG did not provide full information, which was supplemented by arrest warrants, but it disclosed more than has its sister institution in Chapel Hill — and for a much less serious matter, as it turned out.
The Chapel Hill administration, going back to the tenure of former Chancellor Holden Thorp, has meted out information reluctantly. Meanwhile, it’s spent a fortune on public relations. Now it could spend more money defending itself from a lawsuit that seeks only compliance with the law. If it has taken disciplinary action against faculty and staff members, it must say who, what and why.
The public has a right to know. This scandal has tarnished the reputation of our state university system’s flagship institution. This month, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges asked UNC to show how it’s meeting its “comprehensive standards” in light of revelations in the Wainstein report. A letter from the commission’s vice president indicated it was misled when it last inquired into past practices in 2013.
It’s time for the university to try openness. While Folt’s administration can be credited for launching Wainstein’s investigation and making changes in academic oversight, continuing to hide information is wrong.