Jan Kemp, the controversial former English professor at the University of Georgia who blew the whistle on preferential treatment afforded to student athletes, passed away Friday of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. She was 59.
Named a”hero of the 80s”by People magazine, Kemp was both admired and reviled for filing a lawsuit against the university in 1986 after she was fired for refusing to inflate grades for UGA players.
She fought for justice, whatever the price,”said daughter Margie Kemp, 24, of Athens.
Kemp died at an Athens nursing home, about six months after breaking her hip in a fall.
â€œShe liked to walk, even though she wasn’t supposed to in her condition,”her daughter said.”She was very proud, very defiant.”
So much so that she refused to leave Athens in the wake of the controversy, even though it was not uncommon for her to be accosted by rabid Bulldog fans who blamed Kemp for the program’s difficulties.
â€œThey were not going to run her out of her hometown,”Margie Kemp said.
In her historic lawsuit, Kemp questioned the university’s practice of placing student athletes in developmental studies courses. She compared the treatment of the 1980 national football champs to the exploitation of antebellum slaves.
The six-week civil trial captured national headlines, and the seamy details of how a college football powerhouse recruited functionally illiterate athletes led to the resignation of longtime university president Fred Davison. Fundamental reforms at UGA and the National Collegiate Athletic Association would follow.
â€œNo doubt about it. It got everybody’s attention in the United States,”said former Clarke Central High football coach Billy Henderson, who was interviewed for a 10th anniversary retrospective of the Kemp case in 1996.”It got everybody thinking about what the real purpose of college should be.”
Kemp was awarded $2.58 million by a jury, though the judgment was later reduced to $1.1 million.
The damage to Georgia, from a public relations standpoint, was much more extensive.
UGA attorney Hale Almand, in his opening remarks to the jury, set an unfortunate tone:”We may not make a university student out of him, but if we can teach him to read and write, maybe he can work at the post office rather than as a garbage man when he gets through with his athletic career.”
Secretly taped at a faculty meeting, then-remedial studies boss Leroy Ervin told his staff:”I know for a fact that these kids would not be here if it were not for their utility to the institutionâ€¦ . They are used as a kind of raw material in the production of some goods to be sold as whatever product, and they get nothing in return.”
Kemp remained an educator after the trial, teaching at Athens Technical College and Clarke County schools until her condition made it impossible to continue.
â€œIt was frustrating to her,”said son Will Kemp, a UGA junior studying cognitive science.”She knew something was wrong, and she did everything she could to fight it.”
Kemp was buried Sunday in Griffin, next to her parents. A private ceremony was held beforehand. In lieu of flowers, her family requests donations be sent to the Alzheimer’s Association Georgia chapter, 1925 Century Blvd, N.E., Atlanta, GA 30345 (www.alz.org).
Emphasis added. Via.