North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp says there are a lot of positive things going on at his university: public donations are in great shape, outstanding grants keep coming in, student applications are way up.
But all of that is being overshadowed by the academic scandal that lingers in the Afro and African-American Studies and the university's athletics departments. The latest: a barrage of national media attention after what appears to be a partial transcript of former two-sport star Julius Peppers was uncovered by NC State message board posters on UNC’s website last weekend. Peppers’ alleged low grades and class choices raised even more questions about how far problems in the AFAM program go back.
So even as a four-member UNC Board of Governors panel is reviewing the university's original investigation into the AFAM department, the State Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether any computer fraud, forgery or conspiracy to commit those crimes in the AFAM department took place.
A faculty committee has already shared its findings, and Thorp is launching a new review -- with a heavy-hitter leading the look further back.
Thorp announced Thursday that former North Carolina governor James G. Martin will lead an independent review of any additional academic irregularities that may have occurred before 2007.
Martin, a former member of Congress who also serves on the Board of Directors of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, will be assisted by Virchow, Krause & Company, LLP, a national management consulting firm experienced in academic performance procedures and controls.
"We've got so much to be proud of at Carolina," Thorp told ESPN.com on Thursday, "and we've got to reassure people that we're taking care of this situation, and position athletics and the University and everybody in the Carolina family to move forward."
It will be interesting to see what additional information this new probe uncovers -- and whether it might interest the NCAA. As we reported last week in this story, the school shared its findings about athletes clustered in 54 “abberant” or “irregularly” taught classes during a four-year period before the NCAA sanctioned the Tar Heels’ football team for other matters in March.
UNC officials say the students in those suspect classes -- some of which didn't meet -- didn’t receive a grade unless they did written work. And so far, this seems to have been dubbed an institutional, rather than NCAA, issue because the classes were open to non-athletes and it appears the problems originated on the academic, rather than athletics, side.
Asked again Thursday whether he remained confident this isn't an NCAA issue, Thorp told ESPN.com: "I'm not going to comment on that one way or another, but certainly we have disclosed everything that's gone on here, and we've done it in an appropriate way."
Whatever the findings of this newest review, it needed to happen. The drip-drip-drip of unanswered questions and speculation hasn't just overshadowed the athletics and AFAM departments at UNC, but an entire university that had always prided itself on academic integrity.
To move forward, it needed to show it was willing to look back.
And once it does, make sure any further mistakes are acknowledged -- and fixed.
(Here's the full news release of the announcement of the new investigation, as well as other changes, from the school. And here is an "Update from the Chancellor," addressed to UNC's trustees, faculty and staff.)
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.