Lawyer leaves UNC-CH as public records questions swirl
Posted November 14, 2014
Updated November 19, 2014
Chapel Hill, N.C. — The top lawyer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is leaving for a job at the University of Louisville as questions mount over UNC's actions in the wake of an outside investigation into academic fraud at the university.
Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Leslie Strohm will leave Chapel Hill in mid-January to become vice president for strategy and general counsel at Louisville, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt said Friday. Strohm has been general counsel in Chapel Hill since 2003.
Her office has frequently battled with media organizations in recent years over records related to the fraud scandal and investigations into impermissible benefits to Tar Heels football players, arguing some are exempt from North Carolina's public records law and should be shielded from outside view.
For example, UNC-Chapel Hill has refused to disclose the names of faculty and staff members who were disciplined following the Oct. 22 release of a 131-page report by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein that showed academic advisers steered student-athletes for 18 years toward classes that never met and required only a short paper to pass.
Folt called the no-show classes "an inexcusable betrayal" and said nine employees were fired or disciplined based on Wainstein's findings.
"We don't talk about personnel issues and give anybody's name," she said last month, despite earlier promises of increased transparency on campus. "We honor and hold very dear our processes for fairness and privacy."
Privacy wasn't as much of a concern in 2010 when allegations of impermissible benefits first surfaced. UNC-Chapel Hill officials called out football players – and later coaches – implicated in the growing scandal.
Raleigh attorney Mike Tadych, who often represents media organizations such as WRAL News in public records disputes, said he believes the university is violating the law by not revealing who was disciplined after the Wainstein report. Even with pending appeals, he said, state personnel law pulls back the curtain on terminations, suspensions and demotions.
"It's our university. We should have the right to know what happened or didn't happen," Tadych said.
The University of North Carolina at Wilmington announced the day after Wainstein released his report that former UNC-Chapel Hill academic adviser Beth Bridger had been fired.
Former UNC-Chapel Hill faculty chairwoman Jan Boxill is no longer listed as head of the Parr Center for Ethics on campus, and football academic adviser Jaimie Lee is no longer listed in the school's directory. Both were mentioned in the Wainstein report, but university officials still won't confirm their status.
University spokeswoman Karen Moon said in an email to WRAL News that the school has complied with the public records law regarding the fallout from Wainstein's investigation.
"Different legal circumstances require different disclosures," Moon said, noting disciplinary actions aren't final until all appeals or grievances are exhausted. "It should also be noted that you are referencing employee actions and student participation in athletic activities, which are two different things."
Former state Supreme Court Associate Justice Bob Orr, who has represented some football players who have sued the university, said UNC has no excuse for treating students and faculty differently.
"There's a huge disparity, and I think it's fundamentally unfair," Orr said, adding that he believes fairness goes beyond than public records.
"The university is there not for the administrators, not for the professors, but for the young men and women that come through there," he said.