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Accreditors Open New Probe, Say UNC 'Not Diligent'

The University’s accreditation agency says the Wainstein report on academics and athletics irregularities has raised questions about UNC’s compliance with its principles of accreditation. The agency also asserts that UNC may have withheld some of what it knew about the issues during its review in 2012-13.

Kenneth Wainstein, the special investigator hired by the University to look into issues surrounding academic fraud and its relationship to athletics.

In a letter dated Nov. 13 — and apparently lost, then resent six days later — the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges also says that the University “was not diligent in providing information to the Committee” as it gathered more information about the scandal after its previous review.

“In at least two instances, people who were interviewed by the [SACS] Special Committee appear to have had some prior concerns and/or knowledge of abnormal activity occurring in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies … that was not revealed or discussed with the special Committee,” the letter says. “The [Wainstein] investigative report clearly refutes the institution’s claims that the academic fraud was relegated to the unethical actions of two people.”

Those two people apparently are Julius Nyang’oro, the former AFAM chair; and former administrative assistant Deborah Crowder ’75, whom Wainstein found to have engineered a scheme of independent study-type classes that had no lectures or class attendance and generally provided high grades for relatively little work. Crowder was said to have run the scheme over many years, with the often-absent Nyang’oro’s blessing.

UNC shared the Wainstein report with SACS and had been expecting a response from the agency, which conducted its own thorough review of the academic/athletics issues beginning in July 2012. SACS did not impose sanctions on UNC in 2013, deciding instead to monitor it for a year. In August of this year, the watch ended, leaving the University fully accredited.

SACS is the regional accrediting body for institutions of higher learning in 11 states, including North Carolina. A college or university must maintain its accreditation to be eligible for federal Department of Education grants and for its students to receive student loans guaranteed by DOE.

The Wainstein report, the letter said, “makes it clear that there was a network of individuals within the academic and athletic community that knew of and referred students to the ‘paper classes.’ The administration’s failure, prior to the review of the SACSCOC Special Committee, to examine the full impact of these ‘academic irregularities’ [quotations are from the Wainstein report] beyond the professional activities of two people; evidence that some University faculty and staff were aware of the fraud and played a part in directing students toward the classes; and additional evidence in the report supporting the fact that students ‘received one or more semesters of deficient instruction and were awarded high grades that often had little relationship to the quality of their work’ cause SACSCOC to raise questions about the University’s compliance with the following standards.”

SACS goes on to list 18 standards, including institutional integrity, control of athletics, admissions policies, academic policies, faculty evaluation, policy compliance and Title IX program responsibilities.

Under admissions policies, the letter says: “The institution is requested to provide its admissions policies with particular emphasis given to ‘special admits.’ Provide the composition and role of the ‘Committee on Special Talents,’ along with the reporting line for the committee. In addition, the institution should provide information on how many students who enrolled in the aberrant courses were admitted through this process. Specify the number of students that are currently enrolled through the ‘special admits’ process. Disaggregate student athletes and non-student athletes and the programs/majors in which they are enrolled.”

The Committee on Special Talents is a faculty group that considers admission for the most at-risk of athletes recruited by the University. The committee admitted nine athletes through this process this year, down steadily from 39 in 2001. But UNC annually admits about 160 athletes who fall below normal admissions standards — most do not have to go through the committee.

SACS also says in the letter: “The institution is requested to provide all formal and informal, current and past materials that are used by the Athletic Department to recruit student athletes. The information should include, although not be limited to information regarding graduation and future employment, academic and student support services available while enrolled, academic program advising and assistance, and any proposed or sample curriculum.”

The request for information on how UNC meets these 18 standards is extensive. In posting materials at carolinacommitment.unc.edu, the University said it would “continue to cooperate fully and completely with SACSCOC in this new review process, and will thoroughly respond to the issues identified in SACSCOC’s letter, per their request, by January 7, 2015.”

Subsequently, the SACS staff could forward the response to its board of trustees for a formal review or its president could authorize a special committee to review UNC.

The University’s top officials were not immediately available for comment on the letter.

A number of documents related to this case can be found at carolinacommitment.unc.edu, including Wainsteins’ report and SACS’ Nov. 13 letter.


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Letters from readers…

The story regarding UNC’s accreditation and the response from SACS is certainly concerning. Don’t understand, though, how SACS can claim UNC is not “diligent” when it was UNC that commissioned and published the Weinstein report?

I certainly don’t understand all elements of the “accreditation” process but should they revoke UNC’s, would that apply to the University as a whole or just to the department of African and Afro-American studies?

Should it apply to the University as a whole, that would be terribly unfortunate and unfair.

I’m a proud graduate of Kenan-Flagler and know that KFBS as well as most schools at UNC do things the right way and have exceptionally high standards with rigorous academics that are highly regarded not only in the U.S., but globally.

It’s a shame that the reputations of schools like KFBS and the University as a whole are damaged by the “sham” that the AFAM department was running.

Loss of accreditation would be embarrassing and unfair to the ethical and highly regarded faculty, students and alumni of schools like Kenan-Flagler throughout UNC. It’s an insult to the integrity and ethics of most at UNC who do and have done things the right way.

What can alumni do to help with the SACS situation?

Michael Harley ’10 (MBA)
Atlanta


UNC should take the lead in decoupling the football program from the University. Let the booster clubs and alumni associations take over the football programs of large universities and pay the universities for the use of the university’s name and the use of facilities. Let the whole enterprise be run like a mini-NFL, with player salaries, a commissioner with a large oversight board, which would agree on terms of service for players (who do not need to be students), salaries, health insurance and the generation of policies for the running of the league(s). It’s a win for the universities, since they will no longer have to live with the hypocrisy of admitting individuals who are only there for athletics. Moreover, they could count on a reliable source of income from the rental of facilities.

Wilbur A. Benware ’71 (PhD)
Davis, Calif.


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