The University’s accreditation agency has notified Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 that UNC is out of compliance with principles of accreditation in the scandal involving academic fraud in the department of African and Afro-American studies.
A letter dated Jan. 15 from the president of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools advises UNC to “take immediate steps” to come into compliance with its standards on academic policies, academic support services and student records and with the federal definition of college credit hours.
“The institution did not provide sufficient evidence that it had addressed the breaches of academic integrity related to degrees that were awarded to students who were given credit for courses determined by the University to be ‘aberrant,’ ” commission President Belle Wheelan wrote.
Wheelan told The News & Observer of Raleigh that UNC might consider bringing back students whose degrees included the questionable AFAM courses and offering them free replacement courses to, as she said, make those degrees “whole.” Thorp said he didn’t know if such a thing was feasible.
Thorp said that all reports of investigations into the scandal, including steps taken to guard against a recurrence, have been provided to SACS. But he pointed out that the December meeting of the organization’s board of trustees at which Carolina’s situation was discussed preceded the release of the most extensive of those, the James Martin/Baker Tilly report that came out Dec. 20. The report was sent to SACS that day, and Thorp called it “incredibly important” to the issues SACS has with UNC.
“Every step of the way, we sent SACS every report we’ve made,” Thorp said. He added that in the absence of the Martin/Baker Tilly report, he probably would have made the same decision, were he “in their shoes.”
SACS plans to send a special committee to Chapel Hill April 15 to discuss the matter with UNC officials. In the meantime, the University can provide further evidence of satisfactory compliance with its concerns. SACS compliance is taken very seriously; loss of accreditation can mean loss of federal money.
SACS stopped short of a warning of possible loss of accreditation, which it did place on the University of Virginia over governance issues in the controversial firing last summer of President Teresa Sullivan. (Sullivan was reinstated by the university.)
The various investigations, including one by a panel of the UNC System Board of Governors that issued its report after the Martin Report, found that UNC had no process that required a periodic review of a department chair, no review of his or her course load or course requirements by supervisors, and no policies limiting the number of independent studies courses that a faculty member could teach or that defined the responsibilities of faculty members teaching in an independent study format, which was at the core of the AFAM fraud.
The University has since put in place new governing structures, monitoring systems and regular reviews, and it has placed limits on the number of independent studies courses a student can take and that a faculty member can teach. It also has tightened procedures, controls and monitoring in the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes; athletes were found to make up 45 percent of the fraudulent and questionable courses.
SACS acknowledged these steps but said it could not determine the effectiveness of the new initiatives. It acknowledged that UNC had taken steps to better protect the privacy of student records and to monitor compliance with credit-hour policies, but it found those were works in progress and indicated the University could not be cleared until SACS was satisfied with the level of compliance.