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CONTROVERSY IS BREWING AT NORTH CAROLINA STATE : Book Puts Jim Valvano Under Siege

January 29, 1989|DANNY ROBBINS | Newsday

And yet while the specifics of "Personal Fouls" haven't emerged, the mere prospect of such a book has shaken out serious questions about the academic side of North Carolina State basketball.

Richard Lauffer, who retired as head of the physical education department at North Carolina State last year, did not provide information for the book, but he was angered by a television report the day the story broke in which Valvano denied the charges outlined on the cover.

Lauffer, who lives in Emerald Isle on the North Carolina coast, was angry enough, in fact, to call a Greenville, N.C., television station and offer to go on camera with a statement of his own. He said that in 1985, three failing grades on the transcript of center Chris Washburn, then a freshman, were changed to passing grades and that university chancellor Bruce Poulton knew of the changes.

Lauffer, who headed the physical education department for seven years, said that, in studying a computer printout of Washburn's grades in the spring of '85, he noticed three no-credit marks -- marks equivalent to failing grades, given when a student fails to complete course work.

He said he believed that two of the courses in question were English and speech; he isn't sure of the third. Studying another printout two weeks later, he said, he found that each no-credit had been changed to a D. Because he didn't see how such changes could be legitimate, Lauffer said, he went to see Poulton, who, according to Lauffer, indicated that he didn't want to get involved because of Valvano's wealth and popularity.

Lauffer's charges prompted school officials to request that the National Collegiate Athletic Association look into the matter. David Didion, a part-time NCAA investigator based in Knoxville, Tenn., was on the North Carolina State campus last week studying academic records.

Tuesday, Lauffer met with Didion, Atlantic Coast Conference assistant commissioner David V. Thompson and North Carolina State counsel Becky French for nearly two hours.

French, however, said last week that her own investigation didn't support Lauffer's grade-changing allegation. Citing privacy law, she refused to discuss her findings.

Poulton, whose decision to make Valvano athletic director in '86 was criticized by some members of the faculty, issued a statement in which he denied that the meeting described by Lauffer ever took place. The chancellor, according to his office, is currently refusing interview requests.

Poulton was pulled into the controversy again last week when the News and Observer reported that he was a party to a contract under which an unidentified basketball player was re-admitted to the university in spring 1987, after previously being suspended because of poor grades.

According to the News and Observer, Valvano also was a party to the contract, in which the chancellor agreed that, among other things, the university would "be the liaison" between the player's instructors and the athletic department. The player, as his part of the deal, agreed to attend all classes and tutoring sessions.

The newspaper reported that, while such contracts are not uncommon, the chancellor's involvement was unusual.

Elizabeth Suval, a North Carolina State sociology professor who chairs the school's faculty senate, said she was taken aback when she read about the contract.

"I would admit that some of the stipulations in that contract seem to me to be extraordinary," she said. "Some of the things that the university promised to do seem to me to take so much responsibility away from the student that I have to wonder."

Lauffer told Newsday that, because of what he had seen on Washburn's record, he also monitored the academic record of Charles Shackleford, the center who left North Carolina State for the National Basketball Association last year after his junior season.

"He was so bad," Lauffer said of Shackleford, now with the New Jersey Nets. "He didn't have any interest in trying to get an education. He was a pain, too, never showing up (for class) and still wanting a grade. He should never have been in school."

Citing unidentified sources, NBC named Shackleford as the player whom North Carolina State players suspected of deliberately losing an NCAA Tournament game to avoid NCAA drug testing. Shackleford has refused comment, but his attorney, Salvatore P. DiFazio, has called such allegations "completely crazy."

As for the Washburn matter, Lauffer admits that he no longer has the grade printouts; they were thrown away by his administrative assistant, he said, when Lauffer left the university.

But he isn't backing down. "I looked at those printouts for three years," he said. "I took them to Poulton's office and looked at them for three years afterward. You don't forget that stuff."

Shortly after he went public with his charges, Lauffer said, he received a phone call from Golenbock telling him that he would be vindicated by the book.

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