UNC-Chapel Hill officials are disputing concerns by its accrediting commission that the university was not diligent in investigating the worst academic scandal in the university’s history.
In a 224-page report released Tuesday, UNC officials said the lack of information available when the Southern Association of College and Schools Commission on Colleges first looked into the academic fraud two years ago was largely the result of a lack of cooperation from the two people who created the classes that lacked instruction and provided high grades for little work.
Julius Nyang’oro, former chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies Department, and his longtime department manager, Deborah Crowder, later began cooperating in response to a criminal investigation launched by Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall.
“Where the University has a different perspective is in reaction to the Commission’s observation that the Wainstein report suggests that Carolina may not have been diligent in providing information to” the accrediting agency, UNC said in its response. “The University took the Special Committee’s visit very seriously and believes Carolina provided the Committee with the information it sought during and following the visit.”
The commission recently launched a second investigation into the academic fraud that started in 1993 and lasted 18 years. A letter from the commission released in November by UNC listed 18 accreditation standards that are in question. The first was “institutional integrity.”
That followed the release of a report by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein that found nearly 200 lecture-style classes that never met and had no instruction and hundreds of accurately named independent studies that also had no instructor. The scheme was largely driven to keep athletes eligible; they made up half of the 3,100 students in the classes.
The commission cited in the letter two cases in which “people who were interviewed by the Special Committee appear to have had some prior concerns and/or knowledge of abnormal activity occurring in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies that was not revealed or discussed with the Special Committee.”
Weak students benefitted
UNC did not identify those employees in its response. It did note that following the Wainstein report, Chancellor Carol Folt had launched disciplinary proceedings against nine employees.
UNC made public the names of four employees who were targeted for dismissal to settle a public records lawsuit against the university. One of the four, Jan Boxill, is a philosophy professor and former faculty leader who Wainstein found knew about the fake classes and steered athletes to them.
UNC officials said Folt would not be available to discuss the university’s response.
The commission’s accreditation is important. Without it, UNC would not be eligible to receive federal funds, which make up a substantial chunk of its budget.
Much of UNC’s response is a recitation of reforms enacted after the scandal became public in 2011. Those reforms respond to many concerns the accrediting commission raised in its letter as to whether UNC had policies and practices in place to maintain academic integrity.
One particular detail that hadn’t been made public was the correlation between athletes admitted who required a special review because they did not meet UNC’s academic standards and their enrollments in the fake classes. A chart of the last five years of fake classes showed in all but the last two of those years, a majority of the special-admission students were taking them. In 2007, for example, all but seven of the 28 athletes admitted after special review were enrolled in at least one of the fake classes.
The response also notes that a year ago, the U.S. Department of Education asked about federal aid given to students enrolled in classes since July 1, 2010, that were then suspected to be bogus. By that time, the fake classes had dwindled to a few. UNC provided the information and said there has been “no follow-up discussion” since.