academic fraud and corruption

Cowardice, Academic Fraud and Corruption: The New Normal

The jokes about coloring books and worthless degrees are not as funny as they once were.

UNC-Chapel Hill is no longer on probation after serving their one year sentence by the SACSCOC (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges) in response to at least two decades of academic fraud and corruption concerning student-athletes fulfilling their academic obligations.  This academic fraud tainted the degrees earned by ordinary students that took the same classes as the student-athletes in question AND exposed that the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill had no intention of providing the same quality education to their student-athletes as ordinary students.  It is alarming, but nobody cared to understand the unintended consequences and precedents set.  There will be uninformed trash talk jokes (usually involving the infallible NCAA) in the coming weeks about UNC-Chapel Hill by UGA fans and the alumni and students may join in as well.  However, this is not a laughing matter.

LET’S DISCUSS ACCREDITING AGENCIES

Without accreditation, a university cannot function as it properly should and the school immediately joins the fray of the illegitimate.  Federal and state funding are immediately cut off to the university and this typically comes by way of financial aid.  Institutions may still operate without accreditation, but it is typically a kiss of death for private and smaller institutions.

Dowling College recently shut down in the face of losing accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.  Dowling College students were able to transfer to somewhat nearby Molloy College, but Dowling College no longer exists and the extremely valuable property that was previously owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt’s grandson, William, is speculated to be liquidated and purchased by the State of New York and absorbed into the SUNY system that exists in New York.  This small liberal arts institution had to shutter their doors with $54 Million in debt.

A large public flagship institution with a significant endowment can survive a temporary loss of accreditation.  The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill can survive without accreditation for a few years as the institution undergoes a major overhaul, but this did not come to pass.  Probation was issued just over a year ago by SACSCOC and the prestigious AAU (Association of American Universities) did not budge on keeping the institution in the fold of membership.  The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill is apparently too big to be held accountable.  Even in the face of obvious violations that should have resulted in the loss of accreditation, UNC-Chapel Hill was able to continue as if nothing happened, no penalty was imposed and no reputational loss took place.  All UNC-Chapel Hill had to do was implement measures to reform the fraudulent activity and write a 200 page report on it.

In theory, UNC-Chapel Hill can now go back to ordinary business as usual and choose to do a better job covering up fraudulent activity.  The school knows that a precedent has been set by SACSCOC and the worst case scenario is that they are caught again and have another probationary period.  It is also possible that a smaller incident would just result in a warning.  Paine College was on warning status for two years due to six violations in 2012 and 2013, but was found to have violated nine more violations in 2014 including Federal Financial Aid violations, financial mismanagement and bookkeeping errors.  Paine College’s inability to address their issues and add more violations led to probationary status.  Paine College will lose their accreditation from SACS if they lose their appeal this Summer.  It took four years of complete mismanagement and financial struggles in the face of mounting violations to put the small HBCU into this dire situation.

The University of Georgia, Auburn University, Louisiana State University and A&M College, North Carolina State University, University of Florida, University of Miami, Georgia Institute of Technology and virtually any academic institution one can think of in the Southeast is accredited by SACSCOC.  What good are all of these schools as far as reputation is concerned if decades of academic fraud have no real consequences?  Any institution with deep pockets and political pull can put athletics first, commit widespread academic fraud and cheat students of an education given that when they are caught, show contrition and desire for reform.  It can become a never-ending cycle filled with excuses.

It is a matter of ethics.  Do parties at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill truly feel sorry for the fraud they committed or are they contrite because they were caught?  Deontological Ethics vs. Consequential Ethics are at play here for all of these academic institutions.  No one truly knows if these institutions are principled enough to do the right thing by students and student-athletes without factoring in negative consequences that may come about from deceptive activity.

If this makes one feel uneasy, it should.  Most of the readers here attended an institution accredited by SACSCOC and the precedent set can hurt everyone, especially students with record levels of student loan debt.  There are institutions that have yet to be caught committing fraud themselves and with the knowledge that there is a resolution process in lieu of a punishment, it encourages the bad behavior.  The students lose.  

The Cowardly Non-Response

There was no loud, public response nor outrage on the part of University Presidents accredited by SACSCOC.  It was viewed as an isolated incident to the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.  No other University President publicly made a principled stand explaining that this SACSCOC issuance of probation could create both a moral and a morale hazard.  This is likely the highest profile and most egregious case of academic fraud at an American university.  Why is nobody with the necessary gravitas brave enough to say something about it?

It may just come down to one of two reasons that are uncomfortable to recognize:

  1. The recognition that academic fraud exists at their own institutions.  Is it possible that President Jere Morehead is overseeing or failing to oversee an operation at the University of Georgia that is just like the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill?  Could this be happening at the University of Alabama, University of Mississippi or any other school in the Southeast?  A principled stand could result in cold twist of hypocrisy.  Doxxing and investigations would be sure to follow any University President that is seen to be taking a “holier than thou” approach.
  2. Fear of rocking the boat or finding out something is wrong at the accredited institutions after a public declaration.

Cowardice, corruption and fraud all go together.  Academic institutions putting powerful interests and egos before the needs of the students is often ignored.  The money that student-athletes generate for the institutions too often comes before the education that they receive.

The University of Georgia Football Team will face the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill’s Football Team on September 3rd.  The game should have been canceled or an alternative opponent for UGA should have been proposed if SACSCOC wished to avoid moral and morale hazards.  There will be no mention of UNC – Chapel Hill’s decades of improprieties outside of a few jokes and maybe a sign or two, but the game will go on as scheduled.  Partisans will act like partisans and fans will trash talk about the schools they never attended.  The student-athletes and students that were steered and educationally manipulated at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill remain cheated.  There’s no reason to stop fraudulent behavior at any academic institution in the Southeast from an accreditation standpoint.

Maybe the diplomas should be written with crayons.  Crayola brand, of course.

One comment

  1. I agree with you on this academic fraud issue with UNC, but the NCAA was never going to punish them to the extent they deserved. UNC is too much of a darling of the NCAA.

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