The Old Well at UNC-Chapel Hill on Friday, October 13, 2017. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com
The Old Well at UNC-Chapel Hill on Friday, October 13, 2017. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Education

UNC’s academic accreditation is reaffirmed

By Jane Stancill

jstancill@newsobserver.com

December 05, 2017 03:57 PM

UNC-Chapel Hill’s accreditation was reaffirmed Tuesday in a meeting of the Southern Association of Schools Commission on Colleges.

A spokeswoman for the organization said the reaffirmation occurred at the organization’s board meeting in Dallas.

The action was the culmination of a regular accreditation review, which happens every decade for colleges and universities that are members of the regional accrediting agency.

It came two years after the commission had put UNC on probation for failing to meet seven accreditation standards, including academic integrity and control of athletics. That vote came in the aftermath of the long-running athletic and academic scandal, but the probation was lifted in 2016 after the agency monitored UNC for a year’s time.

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Tuesday’s vote puts UNC in the clear with the accreditor for another 10 years. It follows the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions report in October, which issued no punishment against the university.

The NCAA had announced that there would be no penalties against the university because it could not conclude academic violations, even though 18 years of African studies classes required no attendance, little work and final papers that were mostly graded by an office secretary. That decision was cheered by UNC supporters but panned by some others who said it revealed the NCAA’s weakness.

The NCAA had criticized UNC for its shifting positions about whether the classes were legitimate, citing previous statements by UNC to the accreditor, calling the conduct “long-standing and egregious academic wrongdoing.”

“Despite these early admissions, UNC pivoted dramatically from its position roughly three years later within the infractions process,” the NCAA report said. “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.”

The commission’s first standard is integrity. “The Commission on Colleges expects integrity to govern the operation of institutions and for institutions to make reasonable and responsible decisions consistent with the spirit of integrity in all matters,” the accreditation standards say.

Last month, the commission’s president, Belle Wheelan, told a News & Observer reporter that some of the university’s statements didn’t “pass the smell test” and that she would review them if the paper published a story about them, according to a taped interview. Under accreditation rules, the commission can look into issues through unsolicited information.

After the article was published, Wheelan wrote a letter to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, saying she found “no issues of non-compliance with our Principles.” She also complained about The N&O’s story, and apologized to Folt for “any anxiety” caused.

“I do not believe the actions of the NCAA impact the decision previously made by the SACSCOC Board,” Wheelan wrote on Nov. 13.

In a statement Tuesday, Folt said: “One very important aspect of reaccreditation is that it creates a structured process for universities to look closely at all aspects of the institution and into the areas that are vital to operations. Reaccreditation is a massive undertaking by so many on our campus, and I am grateful for the leadership of former Provost Jim Dean, Assistant Provost for Institutional Research and Assessment Lynn Williford and the hundreds of faculty and staff who have worked tirelessly to meet the rigorous requirements of this important external review.”

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill