ATHENS, Ga. -- Jan Kemp, the University of Georgia professor who publicly criticized the school for allowing athletes to continue playing sports and stay in school after they failed remedial classes, has died. She was 59.
Ms. Kemp died of complications from Alzheimer's Disease on Friday at an Athens nursing home. She was buried Sunday in a private ceremony in Griffin.
Ms. Kemp is the English teacher whose wrongful termination lawsuit in 1986 uncovered a system of preferential treatment for athletes and those connected to administrators and powerful Georgians. In 1986, after complaining for four years that she was fired for speaking out, a federal judge awarded her $2.8 million - later cut to $1.08 million - in damages.
Berated by some loyal alumni and revered by others, Ms. Kemp's private life, which included two suicide attempts after she was fired by UGA, was opened during the case to public scrutiny nationwide, a situation she told reporters was very painful, especially for a teacher who is basically "private" and "shy."
Before the case faded, it sparked the resignation of powerful UGA President Fred Davison, whose legacy of converting the obscure Southern school into an institution with nationally ranked research programs was forever tarnished by the revelations that illiterate students were being brought in and promoted on his watch at the university.
Mr. Davison and Bulldog football coach Vince Dooley never admitted to wielding any improper influence on the academic promotion of revenue-producing athletes.
Through special admits, administrative exits and an athletic department learning lab that held students to even lower standards than remedial courses, however, testimony showed that athletes were ushered through a shadow academic world where the only goal was to retain their playing eligibility.
"I am certain there was never any direct statement from the athletic department," a development studies professor told a reporter in 1986, explaining how the remedial program was run. "It doesn't take much to figure out how power and subtleties of the language work and how powerful figures can get involved in things and without making any statements, get things done."
"They covered it up, even from us," then-Attorney General Mike Bowers told reporters. When the allegations came out in trial, "it was devastating," Mr. Bowers said.
In the wake of the scandal, Developmental Studies Director Leroy Ervin was demoted and given a cut in pay; Virginia Trotter, vice president for academic affairs, was reassigned to the College of Home Economics. There were other outcomes: SAT and grades standards were upped for athletes; the financial records of the athletic department were opened under court order; a new sense of urgency about academic integrity was born at the university and across the nation.
Ms. Kemp's problems over development studies methods first surfaced in 1981 when her boss, Leroy Ervin, asked her to call an English teacher and get failing grades changed for several athletes who Ms. Kemp had passed out of remedial studies.
"I refused," she testified. "He screamed at me that it would be done. He asked me who did I think was more prominent, me or a prominent basketball player and two prominent track stars."
For her role in the changes, Ms. Kemp received movie and book deals and interview offers from television talk show host and journalists ranging from Oprah to Ted Koppel. She also remained a fixture in regional courts after she won.
Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Monday, December 08, 2008