Accrediting agency to review academic procedures at UNC-Chapel Hill

Committee to look into handling of irregularities 

jstancill@newsobserver.comDecember 14, 2012 

A fifth review has been launched in UNC-Chapel Hill’s saga of academic fraud involving athletes.

This week, the university’s accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, said it would review UNC-CH’s handling of the academic irregularities in the African and Afro-American Studies department.

Chancellor Holden Thorp was notified in a telephone call, he wrote in a memo to trustees.

“It is not surprising that a respected accrediting agency like SACS would want to take a closer look at the University’s response,” Thorp’s memo said.

Belle Wheelan, president of the SACS Commission on Colleges, said the board asked the university for a monitoring report and will send a special committee to campus sometime in the spring.

“We’re just trying to make sure they’re following up with the stuff they said they were going to do,” Wheelan said of UNC-CH.

The SACS review is just the latest. Several other probes are progressing, including one by the State Bureau of Investigation and another by a UNC system Board of Governors panel. Next week, university trustees will receive a long-awaited report from former Gov. Jim Martin, who has spent months conducting an independent review of the situation along with a consulting firm, Baker-Tilly.

Martin is trying to determine whether the academic fraud is more extensive than has already been revealed. An internal university investigation found 54 classes with little or no instruction over a four-year period, along with dozens more dubious independent study courses. Nearly two-thirds of the enrollments in the no-show classes were athletes.

Wheelan said she was not privy to the board’s discussion of UNC-CH but said it centered on a possible lack of rigor and adequate work by student athletes who took courses in the African studies department.

“Usually when an institution is not put on sanction but some kind of report is followed, it is the belief that they’re working in the right direction, and we want to give them the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “If after the committee goes in, they find that things are still a little discombobulated, then a sanction is possible.”

Twice a year, the Commission on Colleges meets to decide whether to levy sanctions on universities and colleges around the region. The agency can put colleges on warning or probation. A revocation of accreditation – only done in rare circumstances – is disastrous because it leads to a loss of federal funds.

Thorp emphasized in his memo that SACS did not sanction UNC-CH.

“The University is proudly a founding member of SACS,” he wrote. “The peer-guided accreditation process is an important measure of accountability in the higher education community to maintain high academic standards. We appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate for SACS the reforms that we have put into place to ensure that these academic irregularities never occur again.”

Wheelan said the commission’s board would probably receive the findings of the review committee before its meeting in June of next year.

“They’re taking steps,” she said of UNC-CH, “and so we’re very hopeful it will all be over and resolved and everything will be OK by June.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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