Dodging a bullet at UNC

Jun. 23, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

There were sighs of relief last week, we’re sure, throughout South Building and the sports and academic administrations of UNC Chapel Hill – not to mention among their loyal alumni and supporters.
The decision by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges not to sanction the university for the academic irregularities that went on for more than a decade in its African and Afro American Studies department lifts a large cloud.
The accrediting agency didn’t overlook the irregularities. But the remedial action the university is taking, and that satisfies the association, is relatively mild. The few dozen students who have taken one of the troubled courses and have not graduated will be given three options. They can provide the course work from the class at issue for re-evaluation, they can take a challenge exam or take an additional class. The university will pick up the tab for tuition, fees and textbooks.
Students who have graduated will be offered a free course, although their performance in it won’t affect their degree or grades.
The accrediting group will be checking back – the university must provide a progress report in a year on its new procedures designed to avoid a repeat of the problems.
“We are very pleased with this decision,” Chancellor Holden Thorp wrote in an email to the campus community Thursday. “We have taken necessary action 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 wrote.
The Southern Association report is an important benchmark in UNC’s struggles to put behind it the embarrassing incidents in the past two years that have marred a previously unalloyed reputation for academic integrity and for containing as well as any major university can the suffocating pressures of big-time college athletics.
The university clearly has been chastened, and when students show up for classes later this summer, key administrative changes will have been concluded. They started with new leadership in the athletic department and football program, and by this summer will include a new chancellor and a new provost.
We’re optimistic that university is now on the right track again, and we also need to keep the troubles of the past couple of years in perspective. Thousands of scholars in the student body and on the faculty continue to conduct outstanding education and research at our state’s flagship university.
But we’ve always rightly held that university to the highest of standards, and it’s important that the humbling lessons of the recent infractions and embarrassments not soon be forgotten.