Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecuter retained in February by University of North Carolina President Tom Ross and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L. Folt, addressed UNC’s Board of Governors and UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees on June 20 regarding his ongoing independent investigation into irregular courses. The video and transcript of the statements from Wainstein, who is a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, are below.
President Ross: When the Board of Governors’ Academic Review Panel, which was led by Lou Bissette, completed its review of the issues on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus last year, Mr. Bissette – along with Chairman Hans and I – each stated publicly that we would wait until the SBI had completed its independent investigation before taking any further steps. Having served 17 years as a judge, I believe it was right and important that we not risk interfering with an ongoing criminal investigation and that we cooperate fully with it. During the time of that investigation, we remained in regular contact with the District Attorney, as we awaited the outcome of the SBI probe and the DA’s decision on whether or not to pursue charges.
We all wish that the criminal investigation had not taken as long as it did, but that was completely out of our control. But once the SBI probe was concluded and once we had learned from the District Attorney what his plans were with regard to any charges … and then had an opportunity to talk with the DA about his willingness to facilitate access to additional information needed to address remaining questions and bring the matters at Chapel Hill to closure. Once we had that opportunity, Chancellor Folt and I together concluded that it was vital for us to bring in someone from the outside to conduct an independent inquiry. As you know, we selected Ken Wainstein, an experienced former federal prosecutor in late February.
As widely reported, as the District Attorney indicated, he would cooperate fully with the inquiry and share with Mr. Wainstein information that was acquired by his office during the criminal investigation. Deborah Crowder, who had previously declined to be interviewed by the university, also agreed to cooperate. Chancellor Folt and I directed and gave Mr. Wainstein the full authority to follow the facts wherever they lead and to attempt to address, definitively, how and why academic irregularities occurred at UNC-Chapel Hill. We placed no restrictions on what steps he should take, how long they should take to look or to whom he should talk. We placed no limitations on how far back in time he should go. To be clear, we asked that this investigation be independent and comprehensive. As it has unfolded, we have not and do not –have not and do not – direct the details of Mr. Wainstein’s work and we are not informed of the specific details of the investigation. We have pledged our full cooperation and full access to the information that he needs to complete his work. As we said before, Mr. Wainstein will produce a written report, which will be made public. Mr. Wainstein has said all along that he will not share the details of his ongoing investigation or findings with anyone, including Chancellor Folt and I, until his investigation is complete.
But there has been considerable public speculation and a lot of questions have been raised about the nature, the scope, the breadth, the depth and the timing of Mr. Wainstein’s work. Chancellor Folt and I asked Mr. Wainstein to join us this morning, to address those questions and to offer a high-level update on the status of the investigation. With that, I will turn the floor over to Mr. Wainstein, and at the conclusion of his remarks, it will conclude my report. Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Hans: Thank you, Mr. President.
K. Wainstein: Good morning, everybody. It is very good to see everybody and good to be here. Thank you for the introduction, President Ross, Chairman Hans. Thank you very much for the invitation to be here today. I want to start off by just thanking everybody for taking the time to hear from me. I think you got a pretty good understanding from President Ross about the nature of my remarks here today. I am here with two of my colleagues, Joe Jay and Colleen Kikowski, who is at the door. They are two of the team that is working this investigation with me. As President Ross said, the purpose for today is for me to give you an update on the process that we’ve been following, the progress we’re making, the steps that we are taking – not to give a report on our findings. We don’t have findings yet. Our investigation is not complete, and until our investigation is complete, we will not have final findings. Those findings, as President Ross said, will be put together into a report which will be made public at the end of our investigation.
I think it is important to frame our remarks with a little bit of background, as President Ross did, as to sort of how our investigation came about because that really informs the nature and direction of our investigation. As President Ross referenced, this – allegations and facts and circumstances surrounding these paper classes, and that’s the term I’ll use. ‘Paper classes’: classes where students were not required to attend but got grades at the end of them. Those allegations have sort of come up over the last few years and there were a series of investigations and reviews that were initiated in response to those allegations. And each of those investigations did good work and produced results that we have – that have informed our investigation and have been very helpful. The problem was that none of those investigations had access to really the most critical information to anybody trying to investigate this set of circumstances. And that situation changed at the beginning of this year. As President Ross mentioned, District Attorney James Woodall told the University two important things. One, that he was now in a position to share or to give access to the SBI agents who ran their investigation so that they could provide the information that they produced in their investigation to the University and, secondly, that he would be able to arrange access to Deborah Crowder, who was the office administrator in the African American Studies Program or Department, who retired in 2009. And because of those two new opportunities, we now… the University now had an opportunity to actually get to the bottom of this, to get out all the facts once and for all – or as well as those facts could be revealed, they now have the opportunity to do that. That’s when they asked me and my firm, Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft, to come in and conduct the investigation. The mandates as you heard, was to get out all the facts. Whatever they are, get them out and get them out once and for all. And that’s what we’ve been doing for the past four to five months I guess now. And we’ve done that by asking a series of questions. The questions that I think would occur to all of you.
First, these classes. What were the classes? How were they designed? What were the mechanics of these classes? How did they deviate from the rules and the policies of the university? How did they deviate from traditional independent study classes, which of course are a staple of pretty much any university around the country? How long did the classes exist? When were they created and why were they created? Who was behind creating them? Who was behind perpetrating and… or perpetuating and continuing them? And obviously, were there any in the administration who were involved in the initiation and maintenance of these classes or approving of these classes?
The second issue of course is looking at it from the students’ perspective. Were these real classes? Did students do work in these classes? What is it that students did to earn their grade at the end of the semester if they in fact never met? Was there interaction between the students and the professors? Did they write papers for these classes that represented real work? Did they get assistance from anybody that might have been improper in writing those papers? And were there ever situations where a grade was given, a passing grade was given for no work being done?
Another question area, a very critical question of course, is what was the role of athletics and the Athletics Department in relation to these classes? Did Athletics Department personnel have a hand in creating, maintaining or encouraging the Academic Department to offer these classes? Did the athletics personnel encourage student-athletes to take these classes, and if they did, why did they do so? What was the reason? Was the reason simply to give the kid an opportunity to make an easier grade maybe at a less rigorous class? Or was the reason specifically to give a kid an opportunity a high grade that would keep him or her eligible to play sports? Or was the motive somewhere in between? And did that motive change from case to case? And then regardless of the intent behind what the athletics personnel might have done in terms of encouraging student-athletes to take these classes, what was the impact of these classes on student-athletes’ eligibility to play sports and the standing, academic standing of regular, non-student-athlete students.
Another issue area that we are looking into is, to what extent were UNC-Chapel Hill employees either involved in or aware of these classes and aware of exactly how these classes were being conducted? We are looking at the level of knowledge of people within UNC-Chapel Hill throughout the ranks – from the faculty to the academic advisors for student-athletes. Academic advisors for regular students, non-student-athlete students. Athletics personnel. Administrators. We are looking at, across the board, at the level of knowledge that all the groups within the University might have had about these classes.
And then lastly, we are looking at – regardless of what people in the University knew at the time that these classes were occurring, what was the response? What was the reaction of the University as indications bubbled to the surface about these classes? As red flags came up, what reaction did the University take or what reaction did they not take, which is an important area of investigation as well.
So, those were the issue areas we are looking at largely. Obviously, there are a number of sub-issues there, but those are the general issues. And I am happy to say that we’ve made a lot of progress over the last four or five months. Just in terms of metrics, we’ve interviewed over 80 people so far. A number of them we’ve interviewed on more than one occasion. We’ve collected and searched over 1.5 million emails or electronic documents, which is a critical piece of any investigation. We are viewing those emails, searching them with search terms, reviewing them and then we use the emails that we find that are relevant in the course of our interviews, which of course, is a critically important part of the interview process. We are also analyzing thousands of student records including transcripts; going back to the early ‘90s and even into the ‘80s. I want to mention that obviously we can’t do any of this without the assistance of the University and I will say that to date, the University has been tremendously cooperative in this effort in terms of giving us access to witnesses, individuals in the University. Access to records and documents. I see Chris Derickson back there, the Registrar. I can’t tell you how many hours he has sat in the room with Joe and myself and Colleen working through the records that we are trying to get, coming up with different software… different programs I should say, to try to get at the records that we need and he’s been a model of cooperation for us.
While the University and its staff have been an important resource for us, it’s important I think for everybody to recognize, as President Ross mentioned, the University is not part of our investigative team. Our team is completely independent from the University. We alone are the ones deciding on what our investigative plan and strategy is. We are the ones deciding whom to talk to, what questions to ask, what records we want, what emails we need, what new avenues to pursue. We are not reporting our findings to the University. We are not letting them know what our findings are and they won’t know our findings until the final report… our report is finalized. It is important to mention also, the university has taken a couple of steps to affirmatively protect the integrity of our investigation. First, they have agreed not to take undertake any inquiry on their own because obviously, as allegations bubble up, there is always an impulse to go out and try to find… you know, ask the questions. But they are resisting that temptation because they know that could disrupt our inquiry. Secondly, the school officials have kindly refrained from making much in the way of public comment because of our concern that any public comments could influence witnesses in the investigation. And so, we are very grateful for those accommodations.
So, that’s the process we’re following. In terms of timing, at this point, we are in the thick of it. It is impossible given the sort of complexity of what we are doing to give an exact timeframe as to when we think this will be done. We think it is important to do it thoroughly and do it right but we are hopeful that we will be able to have a report sometime by the fall. So, that is my report. Mr. Chairman, I’d be happy to take any questions from the Board members if you like.
Chairman Hans: I will recognize Board members for a few brief questions, remembering Mr. Wainstein will be back in front of this Board in relatively short order and able to share much more information at that time. Other questions for Mr. Wainstein? [No questions asked.] If not, thank you sir. Your work is incredibly important and we look forward to seeing you soon.
K. Wainstein: Thanks. Thank you for your support.