On Dec. 30 I spent eight hours at UNC’s General Administration building for the court-ordered mediation between the University and 10 news organizations, a list that includes The Daily Tar Heel.
While sitting in a stuffy conference room inside an otherwise abandoned office building as our lawyers pushed and prodded the University for information that we believe to be public, I had one thought continually creep back into my mind: This could have all been over long ago.
The information in question is the names of the University employees who were either terminated or under review for their role in the decades-long academic fraud outlined in the Wainstein report, but these identities are just a piece of the bigger headache that is the University’s public relations strategy.
This mediation session could have been about any other piece of information that UNC has attempted to withhold throughout this ordeal; the issue was not that the University would not release this specific information, but that the University continues to follow the North Carolina public records law in an inconsistent way — if it does at all.
This scandal has been a black eye, a broken nose and a busted lip for UNC for four long years and counting. You cannot watch a UNC basketball game without hearing about the scandal, which has become the final element in the broadcaster’s must-talk-about holy trinity with Kennedy Meeks’ weight and Nate Britt’s shooting hand.
But the powers-that-be at the University have delayed the end of this ugly saga by releasing just a fraction of the information the public has demanded from its flagship university. Withholding information does not create apathy, but a public image of duplicity.
The mission statement from the new administration under Chancellor Carol Folt and Co. has revolved around openness and transparency, yet every public record request is filtered through the University’s brigade of lawyers.
Wake County Superior Court Chief Judge Donald Stephens, who ordered the mediation after hearing the original lawsuit on Dec. 12, even questioned if the Chancellor had abused her powers by announcing that nine employees would face disciplinary action for their role in the academic scandal, but then she refused to identify them.
“It is one thing to say heads have rolled, but I’m not going to tell you whose heads or what happened,” Stephens said.