Nearly three years ago, former Gov. Jim Martin made a blunt pronouncement about the UNC-Chapel Hill academic scandal that brought cheers to fans of the university’s sports teams and relief to some public officials.
After investigating the scandal for four months, Martin delivered this conclusion to UNC trustees in a hotel ballroom packed with UNC officials and reporters: “This was not an athletic scandal. It was an academic scandal, which is worse; but an isolated one.”
UNC officials quickly seized on the finding to tell the public it was time to “move forward.” Shortly after, one trustee and UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said in an email exchange that the report likely dissuaded the NCAA from digging more deeply into the scandal.
Now, in a book slated for release in October, Martin says he misspoke. He believed it was an athletic and academic scandal then, and he believes it now.
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“I could have said, ‘Not only is it an extraordinary athletic scandal, but it is also an incredibly damaging academic scandal,’” Martin said in a galley of the book provided to The News & Observer by the book publisher.
The book, “Catalyst: Jim Martin and the Rise of North Carolina Republicans,” was written by John Hood, the president of the John William Pope Foundation and chairman of the John Locke Foundation’s board. Hood is best known as a political commentator and columnist on the conservative side of the political spectrum.
“Catalyst” is predominantly a biography of Martin, starting with his upbringing in South Carolina and his rise in North Carolina politics, first as a Mecklenburg County commissioner, then as a congressman and finally as the state’s first two-term Republican governor from 1985 to 1993. Martin left politics in 1993 and remained a highly regarded public servant.
In August 2011, The N&O reported a suspicious transcript of a football player. UNC investigated itself, looking back at five years of classes and finding suspect lecture classes that never met and only required a paper. But the university determined the scandal wasn’t about athletics because non-athletes were also in the classes and received the same grades.
After that report in May 2012, more evidence surfaced showing the scandal went back further than five years, and athletes were enrolled in the classes in disproportionate numbers. UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp turned to Martin to lead a second investigation.
Martin, with the assistance of the Baker Tilly consulting firm, spent four months combing through 18 years of course data and interviewing more than 70 people before releasing a 74-page report on Dec. 20, 2012. They found what Martin called “phantom” classes that went at least as far back as 1997, and that there were roughly 200 confirmed or suspected ones.
But Martin and Baker Tilly did not review emails among the people involved, nor did they have access to the two officials who ran the fake classes: Deborah Crowder, the former African studies department manager, and her boss, Julius Nyang’oro, the former chairman of the department.
In early 2014, as more evidence emerged showing the connections between athletics and academics, UNC and the UNC system ordered a new investigation led by Kenneth Wainstein, a former top U.S. Justice Department official. He and his team had Crowder and Nyang’oro’s cooperation and reviewed at least 14 years of emails. The evidence produced a 131-page report that found an athletic and academic scandal. The NCAA returned and hit UNC with allegations of serious misconduct in May.
In a telephone interview last week, Martin confirmed the accuracy of Hood’s reporting. Martin had cooperated fully with the book.
He said his main point to the trustees and the public was what happened at UNC was far worse than an athletic scandal, but he erred in saying it wasn’t an athletic scandal.
To me, it was far bigger and far worse, and the reaction was as if I had whitewashed it.
Former Gov. Jim Martin
“If it had just been athletes doing something wrong, like taking money, it would have been a big story,” Martin said. “If it had been tutors writing papers for them it would have been a big story. To me, it was far bigger and far worse, and the reaction was as if I had whitewashed it. That was not my intent, I guarantee you.”
It troubled Martin, a former chemistry professor at Davidson, that some viewed the report as good news because it appeared to clear athletics.
“That, to me, should be a bigger embarrassment to them because they didn’t see that the academic problem was worse than the athletic problem,” he said. “Lack of academic oversight was the reason that they were able to get away with it.”
In Hood’s book and in last week’s interview, Martin said his report also mistakenly said that athletic officials had told him they had twice alerted UNC’s faculty athletics committee about lecture classes within the AFAM department that were being held as independent studies instead. That should have raised concerns, since it meant classes that were supposed to meet did not.
He now says the athletic officials didn’t tell him about lecture classes that didn’t meet. They only discussed concerns about independent studies within the department. He said he realized the mistake while reading the report to the trustees.
Martin said he sought to correct that mistake as he answered the trustees’ questions during the presentation, but he and Baker Tilly didn’t make that mistake clear until a special panel of the UNC Board of Governors met roughly a month later.
By then, The N&O had contacted several faculty members on the committee and none remembered concerns being raised about the AFAM lecture classes. No documentation showed the committee had been alerted. Martin complained about the newspaper’s report a few days later in a letter to the editor.
Too much deference
Martin now says he gave athletic officials too much deference in accepting their version of events. He had only talked to one member of the faculty committee, former faculty athletic representative Jack Evans. Evans later told Wainstein he did not recall any discussion about lecture classes.
Former Senior Associate Athletic Director John Blanchard and Robert Mercer, the former academic support director for athletes, said in the Wainstein report they raised questions about AFAM lecture classes to the faculty committee. Wainstein found little evidence to back their claims.
He recognized that athletics was part of the problem, but he resisted any attempt to reduce it to the only problem, or the main problem.
John Hood, chairman of the John Locke Foundation and author of new book on former Gov. Jim Martin
Hood said he asked Martin about his report on the scandal because it threw a spotlight on the former governor. The passage takes up five pages of a 330-page book, and Hood said that’s about as much attention as it deserves in looking at Martin’s life and career. He accepted Martin’s explanation about what he meant to say, which reflected a long-time concern over declining academic standards.
“He recognized that athletics was part of the problem, but he resisted any attempt to reduce it to the only problem, or the main problem,” Hood said.
Despite the bashing Martin’s report took as time went on, the former governor said he does not regret taking up the investigation at the request of his friend, Thorp, who later resigned and is now the provost at Washington University in St. Louis. Martin was not paid for his work; Baker Tilly charged UNC roughly $940,000 for the probe and an analysis of reforms the university put in place.
While Martin chided critics for failing to credit him for the hard evidence he turned up, such as the fact the fake classes went well back into the 1990s, he acknowledged that he deserved criticism for miscommunicating.
“The most problems I’ve ever had in politics is when they wrote it up the way I said it,” Martin said.
About the book
For more information on the book go to http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780895876577?iss_reset=1