Accreditation group ends monitoring of UNC-CH over bogus classes

08/07/2014 6:12 PM

08/08/2014 6:13 AM

UNC-Chapel Hill is off the watch list of the commission that accredits the university, but that could be only a breather as another investigation into the long-standing academic fraud case continues.

Last month, the university received a letter from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges that signaled an end to the monitoring reports the association had been requiring from UNC. Its oversight was to make sure the university was properly addressing academic integrity issues raised by dozens of classes within the former African and Afro-American Studies department that never met.

UNC’s first monitoring report didn’t satisfy the commission’s concerns, leading to a second the university completed in April.

Among the requirements from the commission was for the university to reach out to some of the students who were in the classes and give them an opportunity to take another at no cost. Students who had yet to graduate could not use the bogus classes toward a diploma.

UNC’s second monitoring report shows 11 of 46 students took another course, while a 12th requested to take a “challenge” exam showing knowledge of the subject matter. None of them sought a review of their work for the bogus classes.

UNC was not required to provide substitute classes for 304 graduates who had taken the classes, but it did offer them. One graduate had expressed an interest in taking one.

Now in compliance

Andrew Westmoreland, president of Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., leads the commission’s board of trustees. He called the scandal a “tragic, but fascinating” case.

He said his recollection is the board decided in June that no further monitoring reports were needed because the university had made a good-faith effort to address the scandal’s impact. The organization did not sanction UNC.

“UNC-Chapel Hill was in compliance ... given the evidence that was presented,” he said.

University spokeswoman Karen Moon said Thursday that UNC had worked closely with the review. “The University is fully accredited and in good standing,” she said.

UNC did not issue a news release about the association’s decision, but did post the letter on its website. The association did not publicize its decision in its report from the board’s June meeting.

The association’s president, Belle Wheelan, said that was because the UNC case did not arise from the typical review process. In most cases, sanctions or additional monitoring arise out of the association’s required five- and 10-year reviews. UNC’s next 10-year review will be in 2016.

Still on watch

The scandal involved lecture-style classes dating as far back as the mid-1990s that never met, typically requiring a term paper that often received a high grade. Athletes were disproportionately enrolled in the classes, and some university records show that the athletes tutoring program steered the players to the classes.

An investigation in 2012 led by former Gov. Jim Martin found 39 “confirmed” no-show classes and 167 “suspected” classes. The commission only required the university to reach out to students who were in the confirmed classes.

One of those suspected classes led to a criminal charge against Julius Nyang’oro, the department chairman at the heart of the scandal. The charge was later dropped in exchange for his cooperation in another probe led by Kenneth Wainstein, a former top U.S. Justice Department official.

Westmoreland said he did not know why the commission did not focus on the classes that Martin’s investigation suspected to be bogus. He said the commission wants to see Wainstein’s report, which is expected to be completed by the fall, and that could prompt further action.

“The commission will certainly follow the release of that report with interest,” Westmoreland said.

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