After the NCAA’s final report on UNC’s academic scandal revealed discrepancies with what the university previously told its accreditor about the situation, the accreditor will again begin investigating.
With UNC up for reaccreditation next month, according to the (Raleigh) News & Observer, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges will revisit claims about the university’s “paper courses”: classes that disproportionately enrolled athletes, had no instructor, never met, and gave out grades based only on a single paper that was graded by a secretary who admitted not reading them in full.
When the accreditor first confronted UNC over the paper courses back in 2013, the university claimed that it would not honor these classes for students who needed them to graduate. If those students wanted to receive a grade in the classes, they would have to take an additional exam or provide proof of their work to show that they’d learned the material. Otherwise, they’d just have to take another course altogether to make up the credit hours. This was enough to get the accreditor to back off, though they said that they’d keep UNC on “special monitoring.”
But the NCAA’s final report on the situation, which was released last month, tells a story that differs significantly from what UNC originally told the accreditor:
Despite the fact that the courses failed to meet, involved little, if any, faculty engagement, and were often graded by the secretary, UNC argued the courses violated no UNC policy. UNC further claimed that work was assigned, completed and graded, and the grades counted towards a UNC degree.
The NCAA didn’t slam UNC with sanctions in large part because of what’s stated in the above paragraph: it’s up to each individual institution to set its own benchmark for “academic fraud,” and if UNC wanted to claim that bullshit classes without instructors or meetings were just fine, then that was their right. That was meant to be something that would get UNC in trouble with its accreditor, not the NCAA. (If this system seems like it’s full of gaping loopholes, that’s because it definitely is.)
When the report was first released, accreditor president Belle Wheelan said there was no need for review. Now, she seems to have either read the report more closely (the above passage is on page 18 of the 26-page document) or simply changed her mind.
“It does raise the question of what did you really do?” she told the News & Observer. “... and at worst we should probably ask that question.”
At worst. Probably.
Update (8:25 p.m. ET, Nov. 14th): The News & Observer has published an update after accreditor president Belle Wheelan released a letter stating that they are not reopening the investigation of UNC at this time and that the NCAA’s report will have no bearing on the school’s upcoming reaccreditation.