UNC Chapel Hill to audit travel-related expenses

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina’s flagship public university is confronting a new problem: Allegations of improper travel spending.

UNC Chapel Hill said Tuesday it had cut loose billion-dollar fundraiser Matt Kupec, a former star quarterback, over possibly improper travel spending.

The questions arose from trips that Kupec, who is divorced, shared with another campus fundraiser who is the divorced mother of former Tar Heels basketball star Tyler Hansbrough, university officials said.

Kupec’s relationship with Tami Hansbrough, another UNC-Chapel Hill fundraiser, came up during his job review a few months ago, campus Chancellor Holden Thorp said in an interview Tuesday. That led to questions about trips they had taken together, Thorp said.

“I began to ask Mr. Kupec for information about his trips and I started getting information about the trips he had gone on with Ms. Hansbrough,” Thorp said. “I came to the conclusion that a number of the trips that he had taken were personally driven – that is that there may have been business conducted but they were set up because of personal interests.”

The red flags were whether the pair’s travels included destinations where Tami Hansbrough’s younger son, Ben Hansbrough, was playing basketball for Notre Dame, Thorp said.

Thorp wouldn’t say how many trips they shared, but said the travel costs came from university donations or other fundraising foundation sources and not taxpayers.

Kupec resigned Sunday after being questioned about the trips, Thorp said. The university started an audit of all travel-related expenses on Tuesday, Thorp said.

“I think we’ll be looking at a number of travel expenses for executives in the university just so that we can be sure we’ve found anything we’ve needed to find,” Thorp said.

Kupec issued a statement that didn’t address the reasons for his resignation, but expressed his pride in leading fundraising campaigns that had raised $4 billion in private gifts for the university.

“I will miss you all but in my heart I will always be a part of the Carolina family,” said Kupec, who served as vice chancellor for advancement for 16 years.

His annual salary was $349,800. Kupec was the Tar Heels’ starting quarterback for four years in the 1970s and was named Most Valuable Player in the 1977 Liberty Bowl and the 1979 Gator Bowl, according to his university biography.

Tami Hansbrough was hired to a different development position at the foundation that serves UNC-CH’s dental school in late 2008, months before her son led North Carolina’s men’s basketball team to its most recent national championship.

Tyler Hansbrough now plays for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. Ben Hansbrough played last season in Germany and Slovenia.

The connection between Kupec’s resignation and trips he took with Tami Hansbrough at the university’s expense was first reported by The News & Observer of Raleigh. Hansbrough, who earns $95,000 a year, has been placed on leave while the audit is carried out, Thorp said.

Neither Kupec nor Hansbrough responded Tuesday to telephone and email messages.

The events leading to Kupec’s resignation represent another black eye for the elite public university after two years of troubles.

It began with the NCAA investigating players under since-fired football coach Butch Davis having contact with agents and receiving jewelry and other gifts. The NCAA in March imposed a one-year ban from postseason play, 15 forfeited scholarships and other penalties on the football team.

But the probe also found academic fraud – including a tutor who worked on football players’ term papers.

Subsequent investigations found academic fraud including changed grades, no-show classes and lightly supervised independent studies in a department popular among UNC athletes.

State criminal investigators are looking into signs of possible forgery, conspiracy, fraud, and whether a professor was paid for summer courses he didn’t fully teach.

Thorp, who became chancellor in 2008, said the past two years have uncovered hidden problems on campus.

“We’ve had a couple of tough years,” Thorp said. “We’ve had a lot of policies and ways of doing things that have been done this way, these ways, here for a long time. We need to tighten those up.

Credit: The Associated Press.