Kemp's suit fostered academic reform

Updated: January 8, 2009, 10:18 AM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Ga. -- Jan Kemp, the University of Georgia professor who was fired after publicly criticizing the university for allowing athletes who failed remedial classes to continue playing sports and stay in school, has died. She was 59.

Kemp's lawsuit to get reinstated led to sweeping reforms at UGA and helped lead to tougher academic standards for athletes nationwide.

Her 26-year-old son, Will Kemp, said his mother was pronounced dead Thursday at an Athens nursing home of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He described his mother as a person who wanted to cure injustice.

"My mom didn't do it for the attention," he said about her battle against the state university, where he is currently enrolled. "It was in her nature. If she saw something unfair, she would always handle it."

Kemp was fired from the university in 1982. She sued in federal court the following year, claiming she was targeted because she protested UGA's preferential treatment of athletes. The jury awarded her $2.57 million in 1986, though that was later reduced to $1.08 million.

Kemp was reinstated.

Before the Kemp case, athletes with SAT scores that reflected little academic prowess were routinely admitted to Georgia. Today, all NCAA schools must adhere to standards on test scores, grade-point averages and the type of courses taken in high school.

"I love the University of Georgia. I love the years I've worked there, and I'm looking forward to returning," she told The Associated Press in May 1986.

But the shake-up made Kemp a pariah, especially among football fans.

A newspaper columnist once wrote Kemp should be "the next teacher in space" -- not long after Christa McAuliffe, an elementary school teacher chosen by NASA's Teacher in Space Project, died in the shuttle Challenger explosion.

Kemp, a former English teacher, retired from the university on disability after suffering a back injury from a car accident in 1990. Will Kemp said his mother moved into a nursing home two years ago.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press