After review of NCAA report, UNC’s accreditor will not take further action

UNC academic scandal explained

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was extensively investigated by the NCAA for a system of fake classes taken by thousands of students, roughly half of them athletes, that spanned three decades.
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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was extensively investigated by the NCAA for a system of fake classes taken by thousands of students, roughly half of them athletes, that spanned three decades.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s accrediting body has declined to take further action after reviewing the NCAA report that last week issued no punishment against the university for its long-running athletic and academic scandal.

Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, said in an email that there is no new evidence.

“We acted two years ago,” she wrote in an email Monday. “Nothing new has occurred for us to do anything else.”

Over the weekend, Wheelan said that the commission would review the NCAA report to “determine if the institution is out of compliance with any of our Principles of Accreditation. If we find that they are, we will investigate.”

That review is apparently complete and no action will be taken.

Last week, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions recommended that the NCAA send its report to the accreditor. UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt said Friday the university had already sent it.

“If you start looking at the record, you’d see that there was nothing new, but it’s always our goal to make sure that we’re as forthright as we possibly can be,” Folt said.

On Friday, the Committee on Infractions announced that there would be no penalties against the university because it “could not conclude academic violations.” The decision surprised many. But the panel basically said the record did not prove that 18 years of no-show African studies classes were created solely to benefit athletes. Other students also took the classes, which required no attendance and little work; students’ papers were graded by a former office secretary, not a faculty member.

Kenneth Wainstein, a former top U.S. Justice Department official, found that the academic counselors had pushed for the easy classes and embraced those started by Deborah Crowder, a longtime manager for the Department of African and Afro-American

UNC has already been under the microscope by the accrediting body. In 2015, the Commission on Colleges put UNC on probation, a rare and serious sanction. The commission’s board handed down 12 months of probation to UNC for failing to meet seven accreditation standards, including academic integrity and control of athletics.

The commission last year removed the university from probationary status, saying it had put safeguards in place to prevent such a situation from happening again. The university had mounted an effort to institute changes and document them for the accrediting body.

In 2012, after the scandal first arose, the organization required UNC to undergo extensive monitoring. A second review was launched in 2014, after the scope of the academic misconduct was revealed in the Wainstein Report, by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein. That ultimately led to the probation.

The university is currently already undergoing its regular 10-year review by the accreditor.

Even as the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions cleared UNC from allegations, it criticized the university’s shifting positions on whether the classes were legitimate or constituted academic fraud.

“Within the academic review of the classes outside the NCAA infractions process, UNC told its accrediting body that the 18 years of academic conduct was ‘long-standing and egregious academic wrongdoing.’ It also originally adopted its accreditor’s characterization of the wrongdoing as ‘academic fraud,’ ” the committee’s report said.

“Despite these early admissions, UNC pivoted dramatically from its position roughly three years later within the infractions process,” the report added. “UNC disavowed its earlier support of the findings and conclusions of an independent report, distanced itself from earlier statements to its accreditor and ultimately defended its courses as a matter of academic autonomy.”

University of North Carolina system president Margaret Spellings refuses to release the transcripts of 2011 NCAA and UNC interviews with AFAM chairman Julius Nyang'oro and others involved in the academic scandal when asked by News and Observer rep

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill