Making Sense of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's "Independent Studies" Policy
Documents Indicate that UNC Again Misled its Accreditation Body, SACS
by Ted Tatos @BlueDevilicious
There has been considerable additional attention as of late on the limit on independent study courses at UNC, in large part because of award-winning News & Observer reporter Dan Kane's latest article. The key issue is whether athletes were given the "benefit" of exceeding this limit, thus rendering them ineligible by UNC's own standards. The NCAA levied this specific allegation in its Notice of Allegations (NOA) as Allegation 1b, stating:
"Additionally, from the 2006 fall semester and continuing through the 2011 summer semester, the institution provided impermissible extra benefits similar to those articulated above and allowed 10 student-athletes to exceed the limit of independent study credits countable toward graduation. Under the institution's policy, credit hours for independent study courses did not count toward a degree after a student exhausted the institutional 12-hour limitation. By failing to count the anomalous AFRI/AFAM courses as independent study courses, and including these courses as applicable toward graduation, the institution impermissibly allowed 10 student-athletes to exceed the 12-hour limitation. [NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52 (2006-07 through 2010-11)]"
NCAA Notice of Allegations at 2.
The NCAA's allegation is based on the information UNC provided to its accreditation body, SACS. UNC stated that:
This section regarding “Independent Studies for Credit” was first incorporated in the Undergraduate Bulletin in the 2010-2011 edition. A 12-hour limit on departmental independent study credits was initially included in the 2006-2007 Bulletin as an addition to the existing policy on Special Studies for Credit.” Until Fall 2006 there was no defined limit on the number of independent study courses that could be applied toward an undergraduate degree.
UNC Respose to SACS at 100.
Is UNC's statement true? No, not according to its own documents.
The image below comes from UNC's 1981-1982 Undergraduate Bulletin. The document clearly indicates that "A student may earn thirty semester hours of credit toward a degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill through independent study courses, provided they are taken prior to the senior year. This document indicates that UNC had a policy limiting the number of independent study courses that could be taken for credit toward a degree at least a quarter century before UNC told SACS that the policy began.
But there is more to this story. Despite the factual inaccuracy of UNC's claim to SACS, technically, these are not the "independent studies" at issue in the UNC AFAM fake class scandal. The "independent study" policy referenced above, and which continued for decades, referred to "correspondence courses", which students could take up to 13 months to complete. Further, if a student currently attending classes at UNC wanted to take such a course, he/she had to obtain the written permission of the dean. Unless deans at UNC signed off on thousands of enrollments in fake classes, these are not the courses at issue.
The courses at issue are referred to a Special Studies for Credit.
Beginning in 1991-1992, UNC adopted "Special Studies for Credit" policy, as evidenced by the email below. This email was signed by Karen (likely indicating Karen Moon, UNC's News Director and part of its Media Relations team) and was apparently directed toward Dan Kane. The email is sent from an individual at public relations firm Edelman to UNC assistant athletic director, Vince Ille.
Though I was unable to find the 1991-1992 bulletin, the 1997 bulletin states that:
This is the policy that limited the number of undergraduate independent study credits, and it was in place over a decade before the 2006 date UNC claimed to its accreditation body. After 2006, the Special Studies for Credit section was modified to include the term "independent study", though the substance was the same. The limit of 12 hours total and no more than 6 per semester remained the same.
Note that the document refers to "twelve hours of graded special studies and/or independent study credit may be counted toward graduation...". The evidence from the documents UNC produced as part of the Wainstein investigation confirms that this is the policy that was relied upon, and that independent studies were referred to as "special studies for credit."
In addition, March 2003 UNC report cited by Dan Kane, confirms the existence of the twelve-hour independent study rule. This also confirms that the independent study rules were referenced in the Special Studies for Credit. As noted above, this policy existed since 1991-1992.
Why is this important? First, the documents in this case directly contradict what UNC told its accreditation body, SACS. The evidence indicates that the independent study policy, listed under "special studies for credit" began 15 years before the 2006 date UNC told SACS.
This contradiction has implications for the NCAA's allegations against UNC, as it substantially increases the number of athletes affected by Allegation 1b. For example, athletes such as Rashad McCants, who played on UNC's 2005 NCAA champion men's basketball team, would be in violation of the independent study policy even before the spring 2005 semester, since he had already taken at least 15 credits' worth of such classes. In the Spring 2005 semester, Rashad McCants took an additional four independent study courses. Since none counted for credit, Mr. McCants was effectively not even enrolled as a student in any classes that counted toward graduation, making him ineligible to play.
All NCAA eligibility and punishments aside, the most stunning revelation here is that UNC appears to have directly misled its accreditation body, yet again. Previously, UNC claimed only two people were involved in the academic fraud, Deborah Crowder and Julius Nyang'oro. The subsequent investigation by Kenneth Wainstein revealed that the fraud was considerably more widespread. Among those found to have been involved, UNC's own Faculty Chair and Director of the Parr Center for Ethics, Jan Boxill, was subsequently asked to resign for "unethical acts."