Saturday, January 31, 2015

UofL Hires UNC General Counsel who Oversaw Athletics during Scandal

Attorney was Subject of Student Complaints

Perhaps the most damning part of the Wainstein report on the UNC athletics scandal, led by attorney and former Department of Justice official Kenneth Wainstein, was a slide presentation to the North Carolina football staff in November 2009 that warned coaches that the “shadow curriculum” which offered a grade-point boost from phony coursework to more than 3,100 students, including a disproportionately high percentage of student-athletes, would desist because of the retirement of its designer, African Afro-American Studies department secretary Deborah Crowder.

As the Washington Post reported,
One slide from the presentation noted that counselors from the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA) read: “We put (athletes) in classes that met degree requirements in which:
— They didn’t go to class
— They didn’t take notes or have to stay awake
— They didn’t have to meet with professors
— They didn’t have to pay attention or necessarily engage with the material.”
The slide then warned in capital letters: “THESE NO LONGER EXIST,” indicating that an effective mechanism for keeping athletes academically eligible had subsided.
But once Crowder retired in 2009, African Afro-American Studies Program head Julius Nyang’oro sustained the practices for two more years until his retirement in 2011, albeit less voluminously.

The Wainstein report criticized the general failure of both university and athletic officials to probe more deeply even after a general reputation of laxness and specific suspicions. At the time, Leslie Chambers Strohm served as UNC-Chapel Hill's vice chancellor and general counsel, where she advised UNC leadership on academic and athletic matters. How could competent counsel allow this to go on for so long?

In an interview with WTVD, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said the biggest shock was how long the shadow curriculum had been maintained, and that the lack of oversight was the big problem. But she also expressed relief that "there are many people who are not here anymore."

One of those no longer at UNC, is the former general counsel Leslie Chambers Strohm. Strohm led the legal operation that had been at the center of UNC's response to the investigation. She was recently named as the new vice president for strategy and general counsel at the University of Louisville.

Given long-standing concerns with a lack of oversight at UofL, the choice of Strohm is surprising. 

Strohm had been a target of criticism when the federal government began investigating the university, in 2010, for its handling of sexual assault cases. In later rallies on campus, students called for an administrative review of Strohm, as well as other university officials involved in student and legal affairs, claiming that her office deliberately underreported sexual assaults.

In the wake of the sexual assault scandal, intense media coverage led to a flood of record requests, all of which were funneled through the legal office where some were denied or unfilled, and a media lawsuit against the university dragged on for months. During a campus forum on open government, some media representatives said the university had relied too heavily on lawyers’ advice, sometimes to the detriment of the school’s image.
“There is a very persistent pattern of folks feeling very disconnected from the university counsel and feeling as if their voices aren’t really heard,”student Andrea Pino told the News & Obeserver. 

Also during her tenure at UNC, Strohm raised the ire of one retired UNC professor for searching faculty email files without providing notice, and was blamed for harassment. (Herald-Sun, April 22, 2011) 

Why would UofL President James Ramsey hire the UNC ex-general counsel?

This from Joe Sonka at Insider Louisville:

U of L hires new general counsel from the center of UNC’s storm of controversy

The University of Louisville has approved the hiring of Leslie Strohm as the university’s new general counsel and vice president for strategy beginning in February. Strohm has held a similar position at the University of North Carolina since 2003, where her legal strategy was at the center of one of the worst-ever cases of academic fraud involving student athletes.

The findings of independent investigator Kenneth Wainstein released last month showed that for nearly two decades, thousands of student athletes at UNC took nonexistent classes that served to artificially inflate their grade point average and remain eligible to play sports. The initial allegations began to trickle out in 2010, as Strohm’s legal advice blocked numerous open records requests by media organizations based on student privacy. The university recently refused to disclose the names of faculty and staff disciplined in the wake of the Wainstein report.

A statement released by U of L President James Ramsey said that “Leslie’s expertise and experience will be invaluable, as we continue our upward trajectory during difficult financial times.”
Leslis Chambers StrohmMary Willingham, a former athletic learning specialist who first aired allegations of academic misconduct in 2012, is currently suing UNC for retaliating against her. She told the UNC student newspaper the Daily Tar Heel today that Strohm was part of the “cover-up” and that her office failed students by not protecting their academic integrity:
“It’s pretty clear now that the general counsel was a part of the cover-up (of the athletic scandal),” Willingham said, saying Strohm’s office first investigated UNC’s athletic-academic scandal, but did not unearth the biggest pieces of information that were brought forward in the Wainstein report.
“I voiced my concern (in 2013) that we still weren’t getting to the truth with our academics and athletics. They should have uncovered the truth. The truth is in the transcripts — it’s that simple.”
Strohm also faced criticism over the university’s handling of sexual assault cases in 2013, with five students and a former assistant dean accusing her office of deliberately under-reporting campus sexual assaults and filing a federal lawsuit. Andrea Pino, one of the sexual assault victims in the case, also criticized Strohm to The Daily Tar Heel:
Andrea Pino, who filed a federal complaint against the University for its handling of her sexual assault case with four others in 2013, said Strohm’s office initially resisted changing the University’s sexual assault policy.
“We knew that when it would get to Leslie’s office it wouldn’t move from there,” Pino said. “Until the complaint was filed, there was never any talk of policy changes — it was set in stone.”
Pino said Strohm’s office viewed her complaint as an attack on the University, not a way to better the campus.
“It did become an ‘us versus them’ scenario,” she said.
Asked if U of L had any concern about criticism of Strohm on these matters from her tenure at UNC, university spokesman Mark Hebert  sent the following statement saying Strohm was thoroughly vetted and they are confident she acted appropriately at UNC:
“Leslie Chambers Strohm is an outstanding lawyer and her credentials are impeccable. A search consultant working for the University of Louisville actively recruited her to apply for the vice-president position and fully vetted the backgrounds of each finalist for the job, including Ms. Strohm. We are confident that she has always acted in the best interests of UNC-Chapel Hill, its faculty, staff and students and will do the same at UofL.”
Strohm’s résumé says that as the top attorney and vice chancellor at UNC, she “led a team of legal professionals and support staff in providing exceptional legal and business advice, creative problem solving, and client service to an institution focused on serving its students, the State of North Carolina, the United States, and the world through teaching, research, and public service.”

In September, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway ruled that U of L violated public record laws and must turn over all preliminary documents related to an internal audit, not just a 15-page final report. According to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the university had not yet turned over these documents as of last month.

This from the Courier-Journal:

UofL gets new top lawyer, Ramsey adviser

The University of Louisville trustees have approved the hiring of the general counsel of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as its next top lawyer and strategy adviser.

Leslie Chambers Strohm
Leslie Chambers Strohm, who is also vice chancellor at UNC, will start work Feb. 2 as U of L's vice president for strategy and general counsel. Strohm will advise U of L President James Ramsey on strategic issues and will oversee and coordinate all legal activities for the university and related entities.

U of L spokesman Mark Hebert said her salary is to be negotiated. Her pay at UNC, where she has been general counsel for 11 years, is $325,000, the Raleigh News and Observer reported last year.
Strohm succeeds U of L's top lawyer Angela Koshewa, who was given a $346,844 retirement package last spring as part of a settlement to avoid future litigation. Ramsey wouldn't comment at the time on the reason for her departure.

Strohm is leaving prestigious UNC as it reels from a major academic scandal in which it has acknowledged that for 18 years thousands of students took fake "paper classes" and advisers funneled athletes into the program to keep them eligible.

Strohm said as chief counsel she advised the UNC leadership on matters related to the academic and athletic issues.

The Raleigh paper reported that Strohm came under fire last year from students as the federal government investigated allegations that it had underreported sexual assault cases, which the university denied.

Hebert said that U of L was aware of those allegations and that Strohm had successfully rebutted them. He also said U of L had vetted the independent reports on UNC's academic scandal.

In a statement, Hebert said: "A search consultant working for the University of Louisville actively recruited her to apply for the vice-president position and fully vetted the backgrounds of each finalist for the job, including Ms. Strohm. We are confident that she has always acted in the best interests of UNC-Chapel Hill, its faculty, staff and students and will do the same at U of L."

Strohm also said she wanted to join U of L to be a part of a flourishing organization headed by Ramsey. And she added that she and her husband are natives of Madison, Ind., and will be closer to family.

Strohm has 30 years of experience representing universities and academic medical centers in the public and private sectors, according to U of L's announcement.

"Leslie's expertise and experience will be invaluable, as we continue our upward trajectory during difficult financial times," Ramsey said.

Hebert said Ramsey wanted a strategy adviser and is creating a new position for Strohm that combines the responsibilities.

During her 11-year tenure at UNC-Chapel Hill, Strohm has been a member of the senior management team, advising on issues ranging from civil rights cases to strategic initiatives involving online learning models, budget cuts, operational efficiencies and campus safety, the announcement said.

Strohm's background includes extensive work dealing with higher education legal issues. She worked in Washington University's office of general counsel from 1984 to 1993, including service as acting general counsel.

Strohm graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan law school. She earned her undergraduate degree from DePauw University.