The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill spent more than $500,000 on public relations help over the last two years to deal with an academic fraud scandal, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
The half-million-dollar tab was doled out to three firms that assisted the administration and UNC trustees in dealing with negative media attention. The PR help included tweaks to op-eds and running UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp through a four-hour session to prepare for questions he'd likely face from reporters. The News & Observer reports that the bill will be paid by UNC's privately funded foundation.
The majority of the money -- $367,000 -- went to The Fleishman-Hillard firm. Another $144,000 went to political consultant Doug Sosnik and $20,000 went to Sheehan Associates.
The News & Observer obtained the correspondence through an open records request, which also revealed a series of communications between UNC administrators and faculty involved in the academic fraud scandal.
The academic scandal involved courses being offered as "paper" classes that did not require attendance, and a number of unauthorized grade changes, the majority of which involved student athletes. It prompted several investigations, including those by former North Carolina Gov. James G. Martin, the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
As a consequence of the scandal Thorp resigned and Bruce Carney left his post as executive vice chancellor and provost.
UNC's bill tops what Florida State University spent for its own academic fraud scandal: $300,000 between 2007 and 2010.
But as large as UNC's bill is for PR advice, it's nothing compared to the $2.3 million Rutgers University has already spent due to the scandal involving former basketball head coach Mike Rice.
Both Rutgers and UNC's costs are dwarfed by the $100 million (or more) in costs due to penalties, fees and lost revenue that Penn State University faces in the wake of Jerry Sandusky's sex crimes.