College president calls on Univ. of North Carolina to lose accreditation over athlete grading fraud

There is no question that the University of North Carolina committed fraud for almost two decades by giving fake grades to college athletes taking fake or nonexistent course, in order to profit from football and basketball revenues.  While the university is blaming a low-level administrator, there is plenty of reason to suspect that senior levels knew or should have known of the fraud, as Robert Weissberg points out today on our pages.

So far, almost everyone has discussed penalties being exacted on the university’s athletic programs, but today Brian C. Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (hat tips: Instapundit and Taxprofblog), convincingly argues that the appropriate penalty is loss of accreditation:

This is an issue of institutional integrity, a violation of the most basic assumption upon which the credibility of any college or university is based: that the grades and credits represented on the transcripts of its students are an accurate reflection of the work actually done. Absent this assurance, a transcript—a degree—from the institution has lost its meaning.

What has been uncovered in the Wainstein report at Chapel Hill is not an isolated incident but a barely concealed process of falsification that persisted for well over a decade, involved more than one in five of all the university’s athletes during that period, and was either known to or willfully ignored by many officials in positions of responsibility.

Accreditation for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is provided by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Here is one of the “Core Requirements for Accreditation” as specified by SACS:

The institution provides instruction for all course work required for at least one degree program at each level at which it awards degrees. If the institution does not provide instruction for all such course work and (1) makes arrangements for some instruction to be provided by other accredited institutions or entities through contracts or consortia or (2) uses some other alternative approach to meeting this requirement, the alternative approach must by approved by the Commission on Colleges. In both cases, the institution demonstrates that it controls all aspects of its academic program.

Again, this is a “core requirement” for accreditation, and I suppose that the “alternative approach” taken was … no instruction at all. One might also point to the federal requirement that “the institution has policies and procedures for determining the credit hours awarded for courses and programs that conform to commonly accepted practices in higher education and to commission policy.” Or to the SACS standard that “the institution assumes responsibility for the academic quality of any course work or credit recorded on the institution’s transcript.”

I have little interest in whatever penalties the NCAA chooses to impose upon Chapel Hill’s athletics programs or that the university chooses to impose upon itself. As I said, this is not fundamentally an issue about sports but about the basic academic integrity of an institution. Any accrediting agency that would overlook a violation of this magnitude would both delegitimize itself and appear hopelessly hypocritical if it attempted, now or in the future, to threaten or sanction institutions—generally those with much less wealth and influence—for violations much smaller in scale.

Most of us work very hard to conform to the standards imposed by our regional accrediting agencies and the federal government. If falsified grades and transcripts for more than 3,000 students over more than a decade are viewed as anything other than an egregious violation of those standards, my response to the whole accreditation process is simple: Why bother?

Macalester College is one of the country’s best liberal arts colleges.  If it were located in Western Massachusetts instead of St. Paul, Minnesota, it would be near the very top of the prestige rankings.  (Full disclosure: I was awarded a scholarship to attend Macalester but decided to attend another midwestern small liberal arts college, Kenyon).

I applaud President Rosenberg for his stand, which may limit his ability to move on to another presidency or a larger, or richer, or more famous institution of higher learning.  A private company that engaged in comparable fraud might well be driven out of business – consider the fate of Arthur Andersen, then one of the top accounting firms.

Higher education is arguably the nation’s largest industry, and it is rife with price-fixing and, apparently, fraud.  It preys on families, encourages young people to indenture themselves in non-dischargeable debt, and enriches senior professors and top administrators while exploiting low-paid part-time faculty and graduate instructors who do much of the grunt work.

The accreditation agency SACS is now on notice, and should be compelled to explain why UNC merits accreditation.

There is no question that the University of North Carolina committed fraud for almost two decades by giving fake grades to college athletes taking fake or nonexistent course, in order to profit from football and basketball revenues.  While the university is blaming a low-level administrator, there is plenty of reason to suspect that senior levels knew or should have known of the fraud, as Robert Weissberg points out today on our pages.

So far, almost everyone has discussed penalties being exacted on the university’s athletic programs, but today Brian C. Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (hat tips: Instapundit and Taxprofblog), convincingly argues that the appropriate penalty is loss of accreditation:

This is an issue of institutional integrity, a violation of the most basic assumption upon which the credibility of any college or university is based: that the grades and credits represented on the transcripts of its students are an accurate reflection of the work actually done. Absent this assurance, a transcript—a degree—from the institution has lost its meaning.

What has been uncovered in the Wainstein report at Chapel Hill is not an isolated incident but a barely concealed process of falsification that persisted for well over a decade, involved more than one in five of all the university’s athletes during that period, and was either known to or willfully ignored by many officials in positions of responsibility.

Accreditation for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is provided by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Here is one of the “Core Requirements for Accreditation” as specified by SACS:

The institution provides instruction for all course work required for at least one degree program at each level at which it awards degrees. If the institution does not provide instruction for all such course work and (1) makes arrangements for some instruction to be provided by other accredited institutions or entities through contracts or consortia or (2) uses some other alternative approach to meeting this requirement, the alternative approach must by approved by the Commission on Colleges. In both cases, the institution demonstrates that it controls all aspects of its academic program.

Again, this is a “core requirement” for accreditation, and I suppose that the “alternative approach” taken was … no instruction at all. One might also point to the federal requirement that “the institution has policies and procedures for determining the credit hours awarded for courses and programs that conform to commonly accepted practices in higher education and to commission policy.” Or to the SACS standard that “the institution assumes responsibility for the academic quality of any course work or credit recorded on the institution’s transcript.”

I have little interest in whatever penalties the NCAA chooses to impose upon Chapel Hill’s athletics programs or that the university chooses to impose upon itself. As I said, this is not fundamentally an issue about sports but about the basic academic integrity of an institution. Any accrediting agency that would overlook a violation of this magnitude would both delegitimize itself and appear hopelessly hypocritical if it attempted, now or in the future, to threaten or sanction institutions—generally those with much less wealth and influence—for violations much smaller in scale.

Most of us work very hard to conform to the standards imposed by our regional accrediting agencies and the federal government. If falsified grades and transcripts for more than 3,000 students over more than a decade are viewed as anything other than an egregious violation of those standards, my response to the whole accreditation process is simple: Why bother?

Macalester College is one of the country’s best liberal arts colleges.  If it were located in Western Massachusetts instead of St. Paul, Minnesota, it would be near the very top of the prestige rankings.  (Full disclosure: I was awarded a scholarship to attend Macalester but decided to attend another midwestern small liberal arts college, Kenyon).

I applaud President Rosenberg for his stand, which may limit his ability to move on to another presidency or a larger, or richer, or more famous institution of higher learning.  A private company that engaged in comparable fraud might well be driven out of business – consider the fate of Arthur Andersen, then one of the top accounting firms.

Higher education is arguably the nation’s largest industry, and it is rife with price-fixing and, apparently, fraud.  It preys on families, encourages young people to indenture themselves in non-dischargeable debt, and enriches senior professors and top administrators while exploiting low-paid part-time faculty and graduate instructors who do much of the grunt work.

The accreditation agency SACS is now on notice, and should be compelled to explain why UNC merits accreditation.