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Former Gov. Martin's letter on red flags over no-show classes, and what the record shows

Former Gov. Jim Martin in a letter in today's paper objects to a couple points in our Sunday story on his report into long-running academic fraud at UNC-Chapel Hill's African studies department.

It has to do with a conclusion he delivered to the UNC Board of Trustees on Dec. 20. That finding would help absolve athletics officials and academic support staff for athletes of any wrongdoing because Martin said they had twice sounded a warning about suspect classes.

"On two occasions (in 2002 and 2006)," Martin told the trustees, "leaders of Academic Support for Student Athletes brought to the Faculty Athletic Committee their concerns about students taking nominally lecture courses that did not meet and only required one 20-page term paper, and other forms of questionable independent study."

His letter first appears to say our Sunday report hadn't shown enough homework:

"In checking this, you found three members of the committee who deny this was presented, only one of whom was present in April 2002."

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. They include the chairman, Dr. Stanley Mandel, and faculty members Lissa Broome, Nick Didow, Gar Hershey, and Celia Hooper. (A sixth, Jim Murphy, briefly said he had no recollection before his wife hung up the telephone.)

Martin's report said the same concerns were raised in 2006. The meeting minutes show references to independent studies being discussed in November 2006 and January 2007. We interviewed three faculty members at the November meeting -- Broome, Steve Reznick and Desmond Runyan, and then Chancellor James Moeser, who was listed as in attendance, and four who were in attendance at the January meeting, Broome, Hershey, Reznick and Barbara Wildemuth. None remembered being warned about suspect classes.

Martin interviewed none of these people. He said that Broome told him after he released his report that he had gotten it right. We talked with Broome after the report was released. She said the same thing she told me earlier, that she didn't remember a warning.

Martin's letter continues:

"While discrediting testimony on behalf of ASPSA as self-serving, you need similar skepticism about motives of the accusers."

Martin's basis for the red flag finding comes from officials with close ties to athletics: former athletic director Dick Baddour, senior associate director John Blanchard, former academic support director Robert Mercer and Jack Evans, a business professor and former longtime faculty NCAA representative. He acknowledged that those tied to athletics would have a reason to make up a story.

But he also said they were backed up by two others who do not have ties to athletics: Chancellor Holden Thorp and Laurie Maffly-Kipp, who co-authored a special faculty report on the academic fraud that was released July 26.

That report was the first mention of academic support being told not to question how classes are taught. It came after we had broken a big story on the case, that Nyang'oro had formed a no-show class four days before the start of a summer semester and it immediately filled with football players. Thorp said in that story that academic support staff helped the players enroll in a class that staff knew did not meet.

Maffly-Kipp has now acknowledged that she and her colleagues on the special committee never investigated the red flag claim. That information was provided to her by Thorp. His spokeswoman referred me to the 2002 minutes.

Which brings us back to the remaining point in Martin's letter:

"The minutes of that meeting clearly state that this subject was discussed, and there is an appended 'Report on Independent Studies.' For our part, we relied on this and four witnesses who were there and affirmed it happened, plus a later conversation with a participant who did not deny it."

We reviewed the minutes and posted them online for readers to judge for themselves. (They are also attached to this post.) We did not see a warning about lecture style classes that didn't meet, or out-of-control independent studies. There is nothing in the "Report on Independent Studies" or in the minutes that suggest any kind of problem with the African studies department.

Blanchard was an author of the 2002 independent studies report. He said he does not remember much about it other than "just reporting on independent studies." He said he twice raised concerns to the committee in 2006 about an African studies professor offering lecture-style classes as independent studies. We asked if he had any records or correspondence to back up that assertion. He said he had none.

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