CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – An accreditation agency placed the University of North Carolina on probation for 12 months Thursday following a two-decade scandal involving academic fraud.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) put the university on notice in 2011 when the investigation began.
UNC was placed on probation Thursday because the university “failed to meet seven standards, including academic integrity and a failure to monitor college sports,” according to the accrediting group.
“All great institutions encounter challenges at one time or another. Recent years prove that Carolina is no exception,” UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said in a written statement Thursday afternoon.
The agency sent a warning letter to UNC in November 2014 following Kenneth Wainstein’s findings of bogus classes and automatic As and Bs that lasted nearly two decades, encompassing about 3,100 students — nearly half of them athletes.
On Thursday, SACSCOC president Belle Wheelan said, “The new administration came in and realized this was an issue and immediately took steps to try and clean it up. This was not an issue that happened on their watch, it was one they inherited but the board felt there was some information they felt needed to be forthcoming and that’s why they put them on probation.”
UNC responded to the letter in January 2015 by asking the agency to find them in compliance. In a 224-page response, the university cited numerous changes that were made following the scandal.
The accreditation ruling came one week after the NCAA charged UNC with five violations, including a lack of institutional control for poor oversight of an academic department popular with athletes and the counselors who advised them.
SACS said that probation “is usually, but not necessarily, invoked as the last step before an instruction is removed from membership [accreditation].”
UNC has nine months to respond and the board will act upon their response in 12 months.
Chancellor Carol Folt released a statement on Thursday afternoon:
Dear Carolina Community:
I am writing to inform you that our regional accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), has notified the University in a telephone call that our accreditation is being maintained and that a one-year period of probation will be imposed for Carolina in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of the many reforms instituted in recent years in response to the academic irregularities that ended in 2011.
The SACSCOC Board of Trustees convened this week for their biannual meeting. The Commission’s Vice President, Dr. Cheryl Cardell, called today to share the Board’s decision that, in light of the self-reported irregularities of the past, a 12-month period of probation would be imposed. The Commission’s decision is the next step—an expected consequence—in Carolina’s tireless efforts to ensure integrity in everything we do and that the past irregularities are not allowed to recur.
In October 2014, the University notified the Commission of the release of the report prepared by Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP documenting the results of its independent investigation into the past academic irregularities. The Commission responded by requesting additional information from Carolina. In January, the University provided SACSCOC with a detailed 200-page report demonstrating compliance with the Commission’s Principles and explaining the extraordinary measures undertaken in recent years to restore trust, hold individuals accountable, and implement an expansive range of reforms.
In today’s call, the Commission took care to acknowledge the University’s adoption and implementation of the many and significant reform measures in recent years. These efforts have indeed been extraordinary and are documented in detail in Carolina’s January submission to SACSCOC. It was clear from the discussion today that the Commission chose to impose a period of probation to acquire an additional year of data regarding the implementation and effectiveness of the University’s reforms and initiatives. It was also clear that the Commission’s decision to extend its period of review was based upon the gravity and length of the past irregularities, as documented in the University-commissioned and independent report of Cadwalader.
The University was informed that the Commission, in accordance with its standard protocols, intends to convey its full findings in a forthcoming letter, which Carolina expects to receive within the next few weeks. At that time, the University will be in a position to comment further on the Commission’s specific findings and will post any further reactions on the Carolina Commitment website.
Let me use this opportunity to underscore again that the University remains accredited. The Commission’s decision to impose a period of probation will have no impact on federal funding, including financial aid available to students and research grants awarded to faculty.
As the University recognized in its January submission to SACSCOC, all great institutions encounter challenges at one time or another. Recent years prove that Carolina is no exception. The important question is how the University has responded and will continue to respond. As your Chancellor, I can assure you that the University’s response—including by every member of my leadership team—has been defined by our unrelenting commitment to get it right and to act with complete integrity.
The University has worked very hard and in complete good faith to provide the Commission with an expansive range of information to demonstrate our compliance with the Commission’s principles, standards and requirements. We have the utmost confidence in our present compliance and in the effectiveness of the many reforms implemented in recent years and will embrace the opportunity during the one-year period of probation to prove that even further. We owe that to the University’s rich and revered history, to our current students, faculty and staff and indeed to the entire Carolina community.
For additional information, please visit the Carolina Commitment website.
Carol L. Folt