Association won’t sanction UNC

Jun. 20, 2013 @ 08:24 PM

The board of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s accrediting agency voted Thursday not to sanction the school related to academic irregularities at its Department of African and Afro American Studies.

However, the university has been asked to provide a monitoring report by next June on “continued progress” made with academic procedures at the department.

Belle Wheelan, president of the Atlanta-based Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, said UNC-Chapel Hill officials have a plan showing how they plan to handle “this situation” that board members felt was workable, but she said they want to see it in action.

“(They’ve) given them a year to put it into play, and make it work,” Wheelan said by phone on Thursday.

Sanctions can come with a warning or probation. They’re given to schools that do not meet accreditation standards and don’t take necessary corrective action.

UNC-Chapel Hill did not receive a sanction, and the university remains in good standing with the agency, according to information from UNC-Chapel Hill.

“We are very pleased with this decision,” Chancellor Holden Thorp said in an email to the campus on Thursday. He said the university has been treated fairly by the agency.

“We have taken necessary actions, and documented the comprehensive reforms that we have put in place over the past two years because of issues related to the unprofessional and unethical actions of two former department employees,” he stated.

For about a year, UNC-Chapel Hill officials have been providing information to the agency in light of the academic scandal that emerged involving athletes and the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, according to information from the university.

The university had conducted its own internal review of academic irregularities mostly in the Department of African and Afro American Studies between the summer of 2007 and summer 2011.

The review found evidence of classes in which professors showed limited or no instructional contact with students and of grade rosters with forged signatures and unauthorized grade changes, according to previous reports in The Herald-Sun.

In response to criticism that the review didn’t go far enough, Thorp asked former Gov. Jim Martin to lead an independent review looking prior to 2007. The review was done with the help of consulting firm Baker Tilly.

Martin reported problems within the department dating back to 1997. He found 216 courses with “proven or potential anomalies” and 454 suspected unauthorized grade changes in the department, according to the previous reports.

To evaluate the school’s compliance with accreditation standards, the agency trustees appointed a special committee in December.

The committee visited the campus in April and produced a report recommending that UNC-Chapel Hill demonstrate the “integrity” of degrees that would be awarded to students who hadn’t graduated, but had received credit for certain courses in the department, according to information from the university.

Those were courses in which a faculty member listed as the course instructor denied teaching the section and signing the grade roll, or in which the chair stated the section was never taught, according to the school.

UNC-Chapel Hill is implementing a response plan that involves offering three options for the 46 of 80 students who have taken one of those courses and haven’t yet graduated, and received passing grades in the courses.

They’re being offered a chance to provide the past coursework for re-evaluation by faculty committee, to take a challenge exam or take an additional class. The school is providing the cost of tuition, fees, and textbooks.

In addition, university officials said they reported to the agency in its first monitoring in March that UNC plans to offer supplemental courses to the 304 alumni who have graduated and were enrolled in one of those courses in the department between 1997 and 2009.

While those students will not receive a grade or additional credit, the school will cover tuition, fees and costs of books or course materials. UNC-Chapel Hill said no state money will be used to pay for the courses for students or alumni.