Fake isn't fair as accrediting agency seeks more from UNC on courses

February 14, 2013 

Athletes and other students who took bogus African And Afro-American Studies classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill didn’t learn much, if anything. But the people of North Carolina are getting an impressively broad education in how bad things got at UNC.

The latest enlightenment comes from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, the agency that monitors whether a school is providing proper instruction and awards accreditation based on its review.

SACS president Belle Wheelan has written the university indicating that the degrees awarded to an unknown number of students may be as suspect as the courses because they were awarded based in part on the completion of “aberrant” courses that didn’t meet basic academic standards.

“Is it really fair for them to have that degree versus students who got the same degree but actually did the work for those classes in question?” Wheelan told The News & Observer’s Jane Stancill. “So some way of going back to clean that up is what we’re looking for.”

Illegitimate eligibility?

So now we have an accrediting agency executive saying there’s something illegitimate not only about some UNC courses, but also some UNC degrees.

And that raises a question about UNC athletes who took the courses in highly disproportionate numbers dating back to at least to 2001. If the African studies courses could not be considered legitimate in terms of a degree, how could they be legitimate in terms of athletic eligibility?

Wheelan asks whether it’s fair for two students to get the same UNC degree when one did not do all the work. Likewise, is it fair that UNC’s athletic opponents who worked to stay academically eligible faced UNC players who were academically eligible only because they passed courses that were, in SACS’ opinion, not courses?

The SACS concerns should resound like gongs in Indianapolis, where the NCAA is supposedly watching out for the use of ineligible players and imposing penalties. But the NCAA has long since proved itself unwilling to investigate whether UNC’s bogus classes made for bogus players. Its silence is damning and an affront to the many schools and individuals who have been hounded and punished by the NCAA for offenses of much lesser consequence.

Awake at the wheel

So it is left to others to ferret out the academic rot in what former Gov. Jim Martin famously called in presenting the results of his curiously incurious investigation “not an athletic scandal.” A SACS review team will visit the Chapel Hill campus in April to see whether the school has taken sufficient measures to “rectify” the circumstances that allowed the bogus courses to occur – and to so long endure.

Surely UNC’s accreditation is not in jeopardy, but its esteem may well be revoked unless the school and those who love it demand a full accounting and self-impose an adequate penalty. That means exploring both the academic and athletic sides of this sorry affair and admitting if athletic victories – like some degrees – were unfairly earned.

Wheelan said the duration of the academic fraud raises basic questions about how UNC was operating and how it was being monitored.

“That’s a longstanding problem that was not picked up by us or the institution, and so, yeah, you have to wonder who was asleep at the wheel and what happened,” Wheelan said.

And, when it comes to the athletes who took the courses, you have to wonder who might have been awake at the wheel and steering.

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