RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The agency that accredits colleges across the South said Thursday that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the oldest public university in the U.S., has been released from its one-year probation stemming from an academic fraud scandal.
The board of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges had determined in June 2015 that the university should be penalized for failing to comply with seven key operating principles for its members, including integrity, program content, control of intercollegiate athletics and academic support services.
“Our work to reach this point today has been extensive,” UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt said in a video response that the school posted on YouTube. “The commitment of the campus has been truly a Carolina-wide commitment to getting it right.”
The school was able to demonstrate to the accrediting agency that “the reforms and initiatives we instituted are working and working well,” she said.
When the board placed UNC-CH on probation, it stopped short of imposing the harshest penalty, which would have blocked the school from receiving federal funds including student loan proceeds. At the time, the board chairman said members decided for the lesser penalty partially because Folt, who took over in 2013, and administrators she brought in weren’t responsible for the problems.
The agency, which first decided against punishing UNC-CH, acted after learning the scope of fake classes and artificially high grades in one academic department between 1993 and 2011.
A report in October 2014 by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein found lecture classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies that didn’t meet and were instead treated as an independent study requiring a research paper or two. Wainstein’s report also detailed how academic counselors enrolled athletes in those classes and how poor oversight allowed the fraud to continue for so long.
The academic investigation grew out of a 2010 investigation by the NCAA into the school’s football program. UNC-CH faces five potentially top-level NCAA charges, including a lack of institutional control.
The school’s 90-day deadline to respond to the allegations is in late July. That’s the next procedural step that would ultimately lead to a hearing with an infractions committee panel followed by a ruling weeks to months later, a timeline that could push into 2017.
Former UNC-CH athletes have also filed three lawsuits, two of which are pending in federal court.
This story has been corrected to show probation decision was made in June 2015 instead of June 2016.
Martha Waggoner can be reached at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/martha-waggoner