U.S. News

University of North Carolina to face accrediting inquiry for academic fraud

WINSTON-SALEM N.C. (Reuters) - An accrediting agency sent a letter to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Thursday, asking the school to prove its compliance with the group’s standards after a probe found that more than 3,000 students received credit for fake classes.

The public university could face warnings or probation as a result of the academic fraud findings, which showed student-athletes accounted for nearly half of enrollments in “irregular classes” over an 18-year period.

But the school is unlikely to lose its membership in the group, said Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

“We don’t just drop schools,” she said. “We give them time to fix things that are wrong first.”

Wheelan said the inquiry letter suggests that the school appears to be out of compliance with some of the organization’s standards, but she would not specify the possible problem areas.

The school has 30 days to respond, and a decision may not be issued until after a board meeting next June, Wheelan said.

The results of an independent investigation by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein issued in October found that some classes at UNC-Chapel Hill from 1993 to 2011 had no class attendance or faculty involvement.

The report did not incriminate any coaches or athletic administrators in the scheme, but noted it allowed many student-athletes to remain eligible to play sports.

The accrediting group previously inquired about the university’s compliance with the agency’s principles in 2011 after allegations of academic irregularities began to surface, but no sanctions were issued, Wheelan said.

The university has said it implemented wide-ranging changes in response to the scandal to ensure proper oversight of its academics moving forward.

Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Eric Beech