Education

Refusal to disclose names of those disciplined after UNC-CH fraud probe prompts lawsuit

Posted November 24, 2014

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— Ten media organizations, including Capitol Broadcasting Co., the parent company of WRAL News, filed suit Monday to obtain the names of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty and staff who were fired or disciplined in the wake of an outside investigation into academic fraud at the school.

Former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein released a 131-page report on Oct. 22 that showed academic advisers steered student-athletes for 18 years toward classes that never met and required only a short paper to pass.

Chancellor Carol Folt called the no-show classes "an inexcusable betrayal" and said four employees were fired and another five have been disciplined based on Wainstein's findings. But she and other university officials have refused to disclose their names, arguing that any actions taken aren't final until grievance hearings have been held and all appeals have been exhausted.

By contrast, UNC-Wilmington announced the day after Wainstein released his report that former UNC-Chapel Hill academic adviser Beth Bridger, who joined the UNC-W staff earlier this year, had been fired because of her role in the sham classes.

Under North Carolina's public records law, the date and reason for any demotion, suspension or dismissal of a state employee must be available for public inspection. The lawsuit notes that the law gives department heads the discretion to make employee records available for inspection if doing so is "essential to maintaining the integrity of such department or to maintaining the level or quality of services provided by such department."

Folt herself mentioned integrity and accountability during a news conference after Wainstein released his report.

"Academic freedom does not mean freedom from accountability. Instead, I believe very strongly that we have to hold each other accountable," she said. "We do this because integrity of the university is owned by all of us."

Wainstein's report names at least 16 faculty and staff members as being directly or indirectly involved in the scheme, according to the lawsuit, and UNC-Chapel Hill officials have provided, when asked by media organizations, information about those people that "appears to be historical in nature" and doesn't reflect their status after Oct. 24.

"The failure to provide updated accurate information is a violation of the public records law and, in particular, the State Personnel Act," said Raleigh attorney Mike Tadych, who is representing the media coalition in the lawsuit.

Other state agencies take the position that changes in employment, such as demotion, suspension or termination, are public record once they have been entered into the state payroll system.

For example, when embattled State Bureau of Investigation agent Duane Deaver was placed on investigative leave in 2010 and then fired in January 2011, that information was public almost immediate;y, despite the three years of appeals that followed.

Some other UNC system schools say, however, that they follow the same personnel privacy policy as UNC-Chapel Hill.

Tadych argued that the public should know about the decisions of its university administrators.

"If it's the property of the people, then they should have it," he said.

UNC officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, which names Folt and Vice Chancellor for Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement Felicia Washington as defendants. The suit seeks a court order declaring the actions taken against the nine employees to be public records and compelling the immediate release of the information.

This is the second time in Capitol Broadcasting and other media organizations have sued UNC-Chapel Hill to obtain public records related to athletics scandals. A judge previously ordered the release of some documents and required the university to pay some of the group's legal fees.

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  • ncsense Dec 2, 2014

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    No -- Public Records Act still applies and requires disclosure of disciplinary action taken against a state employee.

  • Tim Dean Nov 25, 2014
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    UNC knew all along about it but thought everyone else was to dumb to see what was going on.

  • jjackflash Nov 25, 2014

    This is simple. UNC is right to wait out the process. As it is, the media is merely seeking a court order that will force UNC's hand. They will ultimately get it. And UNC will comply. But, IF UNC releases this personnel info ahead of that court order, UNC risks being sued by multiple employees claiming their rights were violated, who will all be seeking MONETARY damages. Yawn. zzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ

  • Viewer Nov 25, 2014

    How much of the "information" in the report is suspect because it was given by folks who were trying to avoid jail?

  • abwhite88 Nov 25, 2014

    What will you people gain by knowing?

  • 1jalapeno Nov 25, 2014

    The administrators of UNC Chapel Hill sure know how to provide their students with examples of ethical and moral behavior don't they? Everyday in everyway they should be ashamed of their behavior.

  • Progressiveredneck Nov 24, 2014

    I saw the lawyer referring to the State Personnel Act on the news. I'm sure these were likely Exempt employees (EPA) so they most likely are not under the auspices of the act like most state employees they referenced in the report.

  • heelzfan4 Nov 24, 2014

    As a former UNC alumni, and avid supporter - Ms. Folt MUST be held accountable and made to provide any and all information as covered by the State Personnel Act and Public Records Law. If she does not, she should immediately be fired!! Her actions are doing nothing but delaying an already tiresome, and spoiled history in this university!

  • phwpoe Nov 24, 2014

    Is it possible that these employees, perhaps being EPA (exempt from the personnel act), do not fall under the public records law?

  • wlbbjb Nov 24, 2014

    Have they been fair in their dismissal's and punishments? Did all people involved receive the same punishment? That is why there needs to be transparency. Everyone involved should have been given the boot and something tells me they weren't.

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