UNC Facing High Number of Legal Challenges

UNC is currently facing several legal challenges, including a class-action lawsuit from two former student-athletes filed last week.

To handle the breadth of the lawsuits, UNC has retained the services of New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, according to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt.

“We have many different challenges, and a lot of them will play out at different levels,” she says. “Some will be local. Some will go all the way to the national level.”

Folts adds this is a high influx of cases to handle at one time.

“It is true that every university has a constant flow of legal actions,” she says. “We are at a new level, at another level, an unusual level, maybe the greatest level.”

Chancellor Folt also says they typically work with local firms but do need to reach beyond those resources at times.

“Some times the expertise may come from another firm,” she says. “This particular integration will also include local firms. It’s that synthesis that we’re using; that I think will really help us.”

The chancellor also says they are wading through an influx of public records.

“Our whole enterprise, legally, has really grown here,” she says. “We’re using it as an opportunity to get the assistance that we need, and then think about how to restructure our office so that it can be nimble and flexible.”

Chancellor Folt adds they would rather contract out during these heavy times, because – hopefully – this staff will not typically be necessary.

“We don’t want to buy a 50 person legal team, because I hope we don’t need that for the rest of our time here,” she says. “So you need those experts.”

Meanwhile, UNC is also searching for a replacement for their general counsel.

Most recently, Rashanda McCants – former UNC women’s basketball player – and Devon Ramsay – former UNC football player – filed a lawsuit against UNC and the NCAA, alleging they didn’t receive a proper college education during their time in Chapel Hill. This lawsuit is one of the many ripple effects following the Wainstein report that found UNC was offering classes with little or no faculty involvement where, typically, high grades were handed out for minimal work.

Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham says he has not had an opportunity to asses that suit.

“I became aware of it when it was filed, but [I] have not had a chance to read it yet,” he says. “And I haven’t been a part of conversations on campus about its implication yet.”

Former football player Michael McAdoo has also filed a class-action lawsuit directed only at the university.

The university is also listed, along with Harvard University, in a complaint that was filed in November. That suit calls for race-neutral admission processes at all universities, after alleging the schools cap the number of Asian students that they will admit.

There is also the ongoing lawsuit regarding Mary Willingham and the effort to settle her workplace harassment claim.

And in August, a female student filed a complaint alleging the university mishandled her sexual assault case.

The law firm hired by UNC will be paid $990 per hour of service from partners and associate fees will range from $450 to $975 per hour. That payment was approved by the governor and state attorney general.


Applications Up Again at UNC

Applications for admission to UNC are up again.

UNC is announcing a record for first-year applications, marking ten years in a row that a new record has been set. Overall applications are up two percent over last year and 37 percent over five years ago: applications from low-income households are also up two percent.

Some had thought the low-income number may go down after the UNC Board of Governors unanimously approved a budget item in August that capped need-based financial aid at 15 percent. UNC is currently above that threshold and, therefore, must freeze the amount they are putting toward financial aid.

Chancellor Carol Folt says the administration will do everything possible to continue meeting student’s full needs.

“We have different ways that we cover that,” she says. “I think one of our greatest assets is that we have been able to keep costs low. The average debt of students at Carolina hasn’t changed in more than 15 years.”

Chancellor Folt adds the Carolina Covenant is a big part of meeting that need.

“We are aggressively growing that. We are celebrating 10 years [of the Carolina Covenant formation],” she says. “We’re putting in what, I believe, is necessary to make sure that we meet the need.”

According to UNC, Covenant Scholars comprised 13 percent of the enrolling classes for the past two years.

The chancellor says it is important to continue offering a top-quality education at a great value and remain accessible.

“I think our best value in the country comes from that commitment to continue bringing in students that are capable [and] able,” she says. “And make the financial barrier not the one that would keep them away.”

As of January 20, nearly 32,000 applications for enrollment were submitted to UNC from 99 counties in North Carolina, all 50 states – plus the District of Columbia – and 113 countries outside the US.

Students who applied in October will receive their decisions by the end of January. Students who applied in January will receive their decisions by the end of March.

Officials say the university expects to enroll a first-year class of 4,000.


Another Lawsuit Filed Against UNC by Former Student Athletes

Another lawsuit has been filed alleging UNC did not provide a proper college education to its student athletes. A class action lawsuit was filed in Durham County on Thursday afternoon. WCHL’s Blake Hodge spoke with Attorney Bob Orr who filed the suit.

You can listen to that interview here.


UNC School of Government Aims to Prove Worth to New Board of Governors Leadership

There have been ripple effects emanating through the UNC campus following news that Tom Ross would be transitioning out of his role as President of the University System over the next year.

One UNC branch of note in this discussion is the School of Government. Tom Ross held a position as a member of the faculty, at the then-named Institute of Government, after graduating from the UNC School of Law in 1975. And Ross has been a proponent of the school during his time guiding the university system.

Tom Thornburg, Senior Associate Dean of the School of Government, says what they bring to the table is unique from the rest of UNC.

“We provide training for officials,” he says. “For example, when there are new mayors, we invite them to school and do training there.”

Beyond the on-campus training, the School of Government offers ongoing advising to newly-elected officials as they come upon new experiences. And the school conducts research intended to help those officials better serve their communities.

In addition to working with elected officials, Thornburg says the school also offers a graduate-level program.

“We do work with graduate students. We have a program for Master of Public Administration students,” he says. “That program is here, in part, because many of those people will graduate and then go work in government.”

But the School of Government does not offer any undergraduate programs. With new leadership coming to the Board of Governors, it is possible that undergraduate programs may be in line for more funding than graduate-level work.

Thornburg says, because the school’s work does not line up with traditional classes on campus, it has always been a priority to prove the school’s worth when budget cuts are discussed.

“An important job for us, always, is showing officials [at UNC and with the University System] the work we do, helping them understand how it’s different from other parts of the university, and helping them understand that it’s important to the university,” he says. “We don’t expect that piece to change with what’s going on with the Presidency.”

President Ross will be heading the University System until January 3, 2016, or until a successor is found, whichever is later.

Following his tenure, Ross will have a year of paid research, according to his contract, before having a permanently-tenured professorship at the UNC School of Government.

Thornburg says they would be thrilled to have President Ross back on their roster.

“I expect someone like President Ross will have other opportunities,” he says. “But we would certainly welcome him back to our faculty.”

Thornburg adds the School of Government reaches 10,000 – 15,000 elected officials with the training they offer.


UNC Submits Response to SACS

UNC has submitted a response to its regional accrediting body, following concerns raised during the independent investigation into academic irregularities at the university.

SACSCOC requested information from UNC, in November of last year, regarding compliance with various accreditation standards. And the university submitted their report detailing how they are dealing with the issues raised in the Wainstein Report on January 12, 2015.

Dr. Belle Wheelan, President of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, says they are now looking over the report.

“We’re in the process of reviewing it, to make sure that we don’t need any additional information,” she says. “And we will forward it to the board for its review at its June meeting.”

Dr. Wheelan says a decision will be made public as that board meeting wraps up.

“They’ll make some kind of decision,” she says. “Whether it’s to defer it; whether it’s to ask for additional information; whether it’s to put them on warning or probation; or drop them from membership. But there will be some action taken on it.”

That board meeting will be held June 8 through 11.

UNC is a founding member of SACSCOC and completed a review with the organization in June of last year, before new information came to light during the independent investigation.

You can view the 200-plus page report submitted by UNC here.


UNC President Tom Ross Ousted By BOG

UNC System President Tom Ross is on the way out.

The decision was announced on Friday. Ross will be transitioning out of his role effective January 3, 2016, or when his successor is in place, whichever is later.

At a press conference with President Ross and Board Chairman John Fennebresque, it was very clear the timeline the board had in mind for a transition was very different than the timeline Ross had planned.

The chairman praised the job Ross has done leading the UNC sytem.

“This board believes Tom Ross has been a wonderful president, fantastic work ethic, perfect integrity, [and] worked well with our board.”

Chairman Fennebresque adds age was not a factor in the decision to transition out of the Presidency of Tom Ross. And Ross says he was always transparent with his desire to work past age 65.

“When I came here, I made it clear that I wasn’t going to be ready to stop working at 65,” he says. “I don’t know how much longer, but I wasn’t planning on leaving in the near future.”

The chairman says a search firm will consult during the process of finding Ross’ successor.

“We’re not in a hurry because it’s got to be the right decision,” he says.

It was noticeable throughout the press conference that Fennebresque was annoyed by the notion politics had anything to do with the decision to transition from Ross at the head of the system. Fennebresque says he received no political pressure to make this decision.

“There’s one of me and 32 [board members],” he says. “I have had absolutely none.”

Ross says he was approached about the transition possibility “a few days ago.”

“The board did have a different timeline,” he says. “We’ve developed a plan that will allow for a smooth transition and will allow the university to continue its work. And that has to be the most important thing.”

When pressed to give an actual reason for the transition, or what the board would be looking for going forward, no concrete answer was given by the chair.

“A lot of that is going to be determined by a search committee,” he says. “It’s all new.”

The chairman did say the student-athlete scandal did not play into the decision.

“I would suggest to you that President Ross has handled that situation, managed that situation, led that situation in exemplary fashion,” he says.

Several local leaders released statements after the decision was announced:

Congressman David Price:

“I am shocked and troubled by the news that Tom Ross has been asked to resign as President of the UNC System by its Board of Governors. He has done an outstanding job shepherding our state’s greatest educational asset through a tumultuous period and preparing its students for continued excellence in spite of serious financial constraints.

“Tom is a personal friend, and I know him to be a man of great integrity and vision. I am baffled by the Board’s decision to forgo his leadership at such a critical point in the UNC System’s history and concerned about the signal it sends regarding our state’s commitment to higher education.”

Statement from Chancellor Carol L. Folt:

“This morning, we learned that President Tom Ross will be stepping down as the University of North Carolina president in January 2016. I want to take this opportunity to thank President Ross for his leadership, dedication and service to the entire University, and especially to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

From my very first days as a new chancellor, I have been inspired by President Ross’ belief in and support for the students, faculty and staff in Chapel Hill and throughout the UNC System. I have enjoyed working with him and have learned a great deal from him about how to lead with passion and integrity.

Carolina will continue to work closely with President Ross over the coming year and will partner with Carolina’s Board of Trustees and the UNC Board of Governors on strategic plans for both our campus and the UNC System.

Please join me in thanking President Ross for his support and commitment to Carolina, and wishing him well in all of his future endeavors.”

Statement from Lowry Caudill, Chair of UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees:

“The legacy of Tom Ross will be one of service to the citizens of North Carolina and, of course, to the University. Our Board appreciates his support for UNC-Chapel Hill and we wish him well in all his future endeavors.”


UNC Requiring Students, Faculty, and Staff to Take Sexual Violence Course

Students, faculty, and staff at UNC will be required to take a training course on sexual harassment and sexual violence.

The Office of Student Affairs at UNC sent an e-mail to students, on Monday, detailing a mandatory online training course to comply with a larger policy aimed at stopping all harassment and discrimination on campus.

Christi Hurt – Chief of Staff for the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at UNC – says this training is meant to educate everyone on campus.

“[The training is] making sure that they’re aware of all of the different components of the policy,” she says. “And that they understand the definitions of all the different types of prohibited conduct.”

Hurt adds the online module was perceived as the easiest way to get the information directly to the students.

Students will be required to complete this training course within 45 days of receiving their registration notice, according to the e-mail sent Monday. A student’s failure to comply with this requirement could result in a hold on their student account, which could affect their registration for classes.

Hurt says this program has been fine-tuned with feedback of a pilot program, which began this past summer and was extended into the fall semester.

“My understanding is that the pilot was very successful,” she says. “Students helped us clarify places where the training could be a little bit more precise and where they needed additional information. About 3,000 students went through that pilot.”

Hurt adds this course is part of the overall policy changes at UNC. She says they have made students aware of a website containing that policy, but this course will ensure students, faculty, and staff familiarize themselves with the material.

“[This requires] that folks go through the steps,” she says, “to understand what the prohibited conduct language looks like, what it means to be a supporter of a healthy campus, to be an individual who contributes productively to the campus climate and culture, and how to get help and provide people with assistance.”

Students will be required to take this course annually, according to the e-mail. Hurt says faculty and staff will have continued training as well.

“Faculty and staff are also going to have to take it on a regular basis,” she says. “It may not be annual. It may be every-other year. But, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that information is in everybody’s hands, in an up-to-date manner.”

This training is part of UNC’s compliance with federal law that requires everyone on campus be educated about the issue.

“This will help us fulfill some requirements under the Violence Against Women Act,” she says. “There’s a specific section in there that requires that we train everyone on campus about a series of definitions related to sexual misconduct.

“That’s not the only reason, of course, that we’re doing this training. We are also working very hard to change and promote a healthy campus culture.”

Hurt says to bring that “culture” to reality, it will be important to continue updating the policy to bring in any new developments or areas that were missed with the initial guidelines.

To continue UNC’s work of ensuring a safe and inclusive campus, the e-mail to student says to expect a sexual assault campus climate survey. Which Hurt says is expected to have multiple positive ramifications.

“Not only looking to gauge the temperature of the campus, but to look for the issues that are specifically causing challenges for students on our campus,” she says.

Hurt adds, in addition to the online training, in-person facilities are still available to provide assistance to those in need.

She says it will be important to receive continued feedback from everyone on campus to comply with providing a campus free of harassment.

The entire e-mail to students can be read below:

Dear Student,

The University has completed the development of an important training on sexual harassment and sexual violence that is required for all students, faculty and staff. The completion of the Title IX Awareness and Violence Prevention online training marks the end of an extensive pilot program and training development process.

The training complies with federal requirements and includes information about laws prohibiting sexual harassment, sexual violence, interpersonal violence and stalking. It also provides information regarding how to identify this prohibited conduct, seek support following incidents and report such conduct.

Many students participated in a pilot program. The pilot program began this past summer and was extended into the fall semester because of the valuable feedback the University continued to receive from program participants on the readability, clarity and content of the training. The University carefully considered this feedback and staff worked diligently with the compliance training vendor to incorporate the suggestions.

In the coming days, you will receive a registration notice from the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office (eoctraining@unc.edu) with a personalized link to the training module. Failure to fully complete the training within 45 days of receiving the registration notice could result in a registration hold on your student account, which could affect your registration for future classes. Students will be prompted to take this course annually. When it is time to renew your training, you will be notified automatically by email. The course will take approximately 30-45 minutes to complete.

This training is among many components of a larger effort at the University to eliminate, prevent and address the effects of sexual harassment, sexual violence, interpersonal violence and stalking. This includes working toward the development of a sexual assault campus climate survey. You can expect to learn more about this survey this semester.

We hope this training will increase awareness and broaden the discussion about this issue on our campus. We will host sessions to answer any questions you have following this training and to seek your feedback on how we can continue to improve our efforts to address this important issue. If you have questions about the training or would like information about additional training opportunities, contact the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office at (919) 966-3576.

Thank you for your participation. I appreciate your commitment to a safe and inclusive campus in which to work and learn.

Winston B. Crisp
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs


Chapel Hill Mayor: “Tough Decisions” Coming on Transit System Sustainability

Chapel Hill town leaders are being forced to get creative when looking at options to maintain transit services that are offered.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says the town is faced with a very clear problem.

“We need to come up with and develop a financial sustainability system for our transit system,” he says.

The solution to that problem, however, may not be as cut and dry.

At the last Chapel Hill Town Council meeting, a town-hired firm delivered the expected news that the state’s second-largest transit system, as it stands, is not sustainable in the long-term picture.

That firm listed five options to bridge the gap to a solution: passing a tax to raise money for area transit, reducing services, charging a bus fare, choosing an option other than purchasing buses outright, and the bus system partners – the Town of Chapel Hill, Town of Carrboro, and UNC – all contributing more funding.

Addressing these issues, Mayor Kleinschmidt says charging a fare for buses may have a negative impact.

“Fare-free buses don’t work for every community,” he says. “But it works really well here, because of the unique partnership we have with the Town of Carrboro and the university – particularly the student body.”

Kleinschmidt adds charging a fare would reduce ridership, which would eliminate the town’s eligibility for certain grants.

In terms of the partners in the transit system, the mayor says UNC has already been forced to make tough decisions.

“The university has already done some good work,” he says. “It doesn’t come without some tension. They’ve started charging people to park in park-and-ride [lots].”

Mayor Kleinschmidt says the student body may decide to increase their transit fee that is built into tuition. A fee the mayor says – to his knowledge – hasn’t been voted on since it was originally approved in 2000.

Kleinschmidt says the town’s tough decisions may involve reevaluating taxes.

“A couple of years ago we adjusted our transit tax rate,” he says. “That may need to happen again.”

But the mayor says he has always been proud of innovative paths town leaders and residents have navigated to find a solution.

With the transit system, that path may be looking at new options for purchasing buses.

“There are lease options,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says. “But we’ve not used them in the past. We’ve just purchased our buses, outright.”

All of the options that were suggested by the firm analyzing the system are still on the table with the town council. And the council has asked that the firm analyze each option further to help find a financial solution for the long-term viability of the transit system.


DBAP Outranks Dean Dome and Cameron Indoor for Stadium Experience

For many sports fans along tobacco road it doesn’t get any better than watching the Tar Heels at the Dean Dome or the Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor. But recently another area sports venue has outranked both iconic basketball arenas.

Jason deBruyn with the Triangle Business Journal says the trade publication, Stadium Journey, has an annual ranking of sports venues.

“This is the fourth year they’ve been [ranking] the top 100 in-stadium experiences,” he says. “The number one ranked stadium experience in North Carolina was the Durham Bulls Athletic Park; they ranked 33 in the nation.”

deBruyn says the DBAP got $20 million in improvements prior to last baseball season – with $12 million coming from the city of Durham – but most was done on the inner workings of the stadium. The DBAP got very high marks from the trade publication, with seemingly the only negative being the lack of lodging and restaurants in walking distance.

The home of the Durham Bulls checked in at number 33 on Stadium Journey’s list, but other venues in the Tar Heel state cracked the top 100.

“The only other two spots to crack the top 100 in the nation,” he says, “were, in fact, the Dean Smith Center and the Carolina Panthers stadium.”

Accessibility could be an issue; tickets to Cameron Indoor and the Dean Dome are much harder to come by than tickets to DBAP. deBruyn says last year the UNC – Duke game at Cameron was one of the most expensive tickets in the nation.

“The UNC – Duke game at Cameron Indoor was the toughest ticket,” he says. “The average cost of a ticket to that game is $1,400.”

You can see the full list of the Top 100 Stadium Experiences of 2014, according to Stadium Journey, here.


MBA@UNC Ranked #1 Online MBA Program

The Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC has brought in another number one ranking.

For the first time ever, U.S. News & World Report ranked online MBA programs. And MBA@UNC is checking in at the top spot.

Doug Shackelford, Dean of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, says they were excited to be at the top of the list

“We started the program in 2011,” he says. “Our mindset, from the very beginning, was there are a lot of great MBA prospective students for whom coming to Chapel Hill might not be very easy. But they would love to get an education from us.”

The program has grown to more than 630 students, who represent 47 states and 35 countries.

Shackelford says that the program is ideal for those who travel on a regular basis, those who are working overseas – including a large military contingency – and those who do not have access to a higher-quality education, wherever they may be.

He adds that it was important to structure the program in a way that would not compromise the education being offered, the faculty teaching the course, or the students enrolled.

Shackelford says we are spoiled in the Triangle with so many high-quality options for a higher education.

“There are a lot of places, in this country and around the world, where you can’t find a top-quality education for hundreds of miles,” he says. “We’re able to bring a top-tier MBA education to those people.”

Shackelford says the program affords students virtual classrooms to meet and correspond with each other and the teacher, adding students all around the world may be taking part in the class together during completely different portions of their day.

He says this model allows classes to be taught in the same way they are on campus.

To build camaraderie among students in the classes, quarterly meetings are held; students are not required to attend every meeting, but they must attend a certain number to graduate. Shackelford adds two of these meetings are held outside of the U.S., one at a location in the country, and every December the students are brought to Chapel Hill.

“We’re building Tar Heels all around the world,” he says. “When we bring them here [Chapel Hill] in December, they raid the student store and buy up everything blue they can find.

“Last year we had [more than] two hundred students able to attend a basketball game.”

He adds he is excited to see what the future holds for this form of education.

“We feel we’re on the verge of where the future’s going,” Shackelford says. “I feel this program is a little bit like the first time you ever saw a cell phone.”