Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Accreditation and UNC

By Professor Doom

     The UNC “paper courses” scandal ran for 18 years, despite years of complaints from faculty and whistleblowers about the fraud. UNC administration maintains the fraud they were committing was only due to a rogue faculty, and they had no idea anything was going on, despite the many previous investigations into the matter that were squelched found nothing, despite the thousands of students involved. UNC also promises that the paper courses fraud is the only fraud going on at UNC.

     I maintain that the fraud at UNC is actually fairly typical in higher education, and that accreditation really couldn’t do anything about the fraud at UNC, even if it cared. I maintain this is because accreditation is run by the same administrators that run the institutions…the system is set up so that fraud is easy, and so that administrators can do whatever they want with little input from those that are actually educators instead of plunderers of our nation’s tax dollars and destroyers our nation’s youth.

     But, why take my word for it? UNC, for example, is accredited by SACS, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (they refer to themselves as “the Commission”). Surely it was a fluke that UNC’s open fraud took 18 years to discover despite many such complaints. SACS is responsible for accrediting the education of millions of students, wouldn’t it be nice to know what they do in general about complaints of fraud? 

     Well, actually, it’s pretty easy to find out, since SACS is kind enough to put their procedures online. Thus it is that anyone who cares to know can find out how trivial it is to run an 18 year fraud like UNC, and how reasonable it is to claim that such frauds are everyday, business-as-usual, events in higher education today.

     So, let’s pretend you are faculty at UNC, say, around 1996, and you see that students are engaging in totally fraudulent classes...not just one student, but dozens, hundreds, engaging in open academic fraud. Since you have integrity, and want to work at an institution with integrity, you decide to report the fraud to accreditation. You go to SACs, and get their information. It’s possible policies were slightly different 18 years ago, so just trust me that the rules were close enough to today's rules. So let’s accept the current policy at face value in this regard:

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) recognizes the value of information provided by students, employees, and others in determining whether an institution’s performance is consistent with the Commission’s standards for obtaining or maintaining accreditation.”

     Great! SACS sound like they’re willing to hear complaints. That’s certainly a good start. Let’s read on:

“Because the Commission’s complaint procedures are for the purpose of addressing any significant non-compliance with the Commission’s standards, policies, or procedures, the procedures are not intended to be used to involve the Commission in disputes between individuals and member institutions…”

     Ok, fair enough, SACS only wants to hear about accreditation issues, and not about disputes between individuals and the institutions. While this sounds good, keep in mind that, immediately, this means administration can do whatever they want to faculty, and faculty are helpless against it, at least as far as accreditation is concerned. Any faculty trying to complain about violations like “lack of integrity” (this is SAC’s first principle of accreditation) in treatment of faculty will get nowhere with SACS, since their own policies don’t allow for hearing of such complaints.

     Hmm, accreditation in no way protects faculty from administrative abuses.

     But that’s ok, remember, we’re pretending you’re a faculty member complaining about those bogus paper courses UNC offers, and that’s not a personal matter at all. Still good, right? Read on:

     The Commission expects individuals to attempt to resolve the issue through all means available to the complainant, including following the institution’s own published grievance procedures, before submitting a complaint to the Commission. Therefore, the Commission’s usual practice is not to consider a complaint that is currently in administrative proceedings, including institutional proceedings, or in litigation.

     Ok, so SACS says that before complaining to them, as faculty you should try to resolve things at your own institution. Oh, wait. Time and again I’ve documented that any faculty who dares make a complaint against administration is in for a beating…if you go that route, then you’ll probably have to fight a legal battle for ten years or more (and be out of a job, and unemployable, while doing it). Vicious administration might use a child’s t-shirt to justify suspending you. They will hurt you any way they can…and I’ll stop linking examples of exactly what you’ll face if you make a complaint traceable to you.

    After you fight this ten year battle just to get administration to honor its basic policies, THEN, hopefully, you’ll be able to get administration to do something about the actual thing you complained about, that is, the fraudulent paper courses on campus. THEN, if administration doesn’t do anything about it, you can then hope to get SACS to “look into it.” But only after you’ve destroyed your career and made your own life miserable first.

     Let’s suppose you don’t want to fight a decade long legal battle before you can even have a slight chance that SACS will do something about the egregious fraud going on at UNC. Read on, and there’s hope:

“However, if there is substantial, credible evidence that indicates systemic problems with an accredited institution, the Commission may, at its discretion, choose to proceed with the review…”

     This is a little problematic. You have to first destroy your life and career before you’d be able to show there are “systemic problems with an accredited institution” (and, keep in mind, SACS probably put this line in here because many institutions have systemic problems with fraud). So let’s suppose, as faculty, you watch a few other faculty members try to get the fraud fixed. You watch them get destroyed by administration for complaining about the open violation of accrediting standards. You gather your evidence, and then make your complaint.

     That’ll take at least two years, but I guess letting the fraud run for 2 years isn’t so bad, in the name of collegiality. Keep that in mind, by SACS’ own policies, every institution can have multiple-year long fraud policies running, because of their defined procedures. This is actually quite common; accreditation reviews can easily be spaced out 5 years or more, and many faculty have reported things are VERY different when there’s a accreditation review…and revert as soon as the very limp investigation by the accreditors ends.

     But, you wait two years, gather impressive evidence, and make your complaint. It’s now 1998. Let’s see how to do that:

In order to be considered, a formal complaint must be submitted in writing using the Commission’s “Complaint against Institutions: Information Sheet and Form,” signed, and two copies sent to: President, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia, 30033
-4097. The Commission will entertain neither complaints that are not in writing or which are anonymous,

    Ok, so you have to submit your complaint in writing—they won’t accept e-mailed or faxed complaints (did I mention how little policies change over the years? You can fax orders for pizzas or buy bullion gold with an e-mail…higher education is slow to change, I admit). Alas, SACS will not accept anonymous complaints.
     That’s a problem. If you turn in a complaint, and it has your name on it, then administration at your institution is going to know. They’re going to make your life hell, and there won’t be a thing you can do about it.

     But hey, you’re faculty, you’re smart. If you can’t submit your complaint and evidence anonymously, well then, you’ll just get a lawyer to submit on your behalf. Let’s suppose you’re willing to pay a lawyer a few thousand bucks to do just that. Good enough? Nope:

In addition, the Commission will not act on complaints submitted on behalf of another individual or complaints forwarded to the Commission

     Obviously, other faculty have tried to protect themselves in this manner, and so administrators at SACS (and thus the same at the institution) saw to it that faculty wouldn’t be able to safely make a complaint. So much for that idea. Even if you have a complaint, and evidence, that administration at your institution is condoning the rape of children and the theft of billions of dollars via academic fraud, SACS will do nothing about it unless you’re willing to sacrifice your own life and career.

     So, you make the sacrifice, do the right thing, and submit the evidence to administration first. You fight your ten year battle to be treated decently. It’s now 2008. You then give administration 3 years to clean up its act (remember, SACS won’t address any ongoing proceedings, by their above policies, and administration isn’t motivated to move quickly here). Still alive? Then, finally, assuming administration doesn’t screw you again and make your life more hellish, you can report to SACs all that evidence you gathered a decade earlier.

     It’ll take SACS five years or so to make their own investigation…it’ll be at least 2013 before SACS finally acknowledges there might, maybe, possibly, be a problem. Too bad policy doesn’t allow for evidence to be considered without a personal sacrifice.

     It doesn’t matter what the evidence is, the person supplying the evidence must come forward and be destroyed by the criminals that would be hurt by the evidence.     It’s almost as though the policy were written by the very people that could possibly be hurt by a complaint. Well, that’s because it has been written by those same people. 
     Seriously, looking at the above, it becomes quite understandable why UNC could engage in systematic fraud over the course of 18 years with only half a dozen or so faculty willing to make complaints, and even then mostly only willing to make quiet, whimpering, “please stop doing this” type complaints, as opposed to formal complaints to accreditation.

     And suppose you make this sacrifice? Well, then, let’s look at UNC. After 18 years of fraud, what will accreditation do about it?

     Next time.


  1. It isn't just during the accreditation process that abuse of staff occurs. Find anything that's wrong, bring it to the attention of the administration, and one can be guaranteed to have a miserable life after that.

    If there actually is an investigation, surveys will, no doubt, be conducted. (The pettier the bureaucrat, the more he or she relies on statistics to justify their objectives. Remember what Mark Twain said about them.) Those surveys will inevitably ask questions worded in such a way so that, no matter what one answers, the administrators will be let off the hook and the whistleblower becomes the bad guy.

    Been there, suffered for it.

    1. Yep, they love their surveys, and it doesn't matter how biased they are, if it says what admin wants to hear, it's a good survey. If it doesn't, well, then the survey may as well not have happened.

      That was the thing that really drove me nuts. I was working with administrators with Ph.D.s, research degrees, where they used statistics in their degree (at least, apparently), and yet they had not the slightest idea how any of statistics works, at least if you intended to do anything relevant with them.

    2. It's not just in academe where that occurs.

      I've worked for companies where engineering or technical administrators may have had degrees in those fields, but were dumb as rocks. For them, not knowing the difference between a U-bolt and an integrated circuit was not only an asset, it was a source of pride.

      Then again, they were more like company clerics, checking for who was "worthy" to be on the payroll and intimately familiar with biz-babble and well as who one should chat up for one's next promotion.