- University hires independent counsel to look into irregularities
- Wainstein worked for Justice Department for two decades
- CNN highlighted ongoing problems with student-athlete literacy
The University of North Carolina has brought on a former U.S. attorney to conduct an independent investigation of academic irregularities at the Chapel Hill campus.
Kenneth L. Wainstein, a 19-year veteran of the U.S. Justice Department, will have access to "new information that may become available," UNC system President Tom Ross and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L. Folt said in a joint announcement Friday.
The appointment of Wainstein by the university system comes amid increased national scrutiny on the matter.
The institution has been under the microscope for two years, ever since the revelation that students -- mostly athletes -- were taking classes where little or no work was required.
Renewed scrutiny came this year when CNN published findings from whistle-blower Mary Willingham that showed 8% of a sample of UNC students playing the money-making college sports of football and basketball were reading below a third-grade level.
The announcement Friday said Wainstein will have access to information from local District Attorney Jim Woodall. The prosecutor has been investigating UNC's Department of African and Afro-American Studies -- the department where fake classes were uncovered.
Late last year, the former head of that department was indicted on fraud charges related to those classes.
"Woodall has indicated that he will cooperate with the inquiry and that he can now share with the independent counsel as much information acquired by his office during the criminal investigation as determined to be appropriate," the joint statement said.
The prestigious public university has repeatedly attacked the credibility of Willingham, but has also acknowledged shortcomings in its academics.
"I think that it is amazing," Willingham said when asked about the new outside investigation. "... The truth has been available all this time. Truth is cheap, compared to whitewash and lies."
The UNC statement said Wainstein's finding will be made public.
"Based on information that the district attorney is able to offer, Wainstein will take any further steps necessary to address any questions left unanswered during previous reviews commissioned by the university," the UNC press release said. "While there is no set timetable for completing the inquiry, the university will cooperate fully with Wainstein and ensure he has the full access he needs to complete his work. ...."
UNC has done several other internal investigations since The News & Observer newspaper first broke the story about the fake classes. Each time, the findings have raised more questions.
Among them, the question of who came up with the idea for the fake classes, and how so many athletes were directed toward them. Initially, the university denied that athletics was tied to the scandal, and the NCAA declined to take any action against the university, saying it was an academic scandal, not an athletic one.
Officials now appear to be backing away from that claim and leaving open the possibility that there was a stronger athletic tie.
"We have directed Mr. Wainstein to ask the tough questions," Folt said. "Follow the facts wherever they lead, and get the job done."