This story is part of a series from The Daily Tar Heel examining the more than 70 reforms the University has said were made since information about the academic-athletic scandal came to light in 2010. The complete list of reforms can be found on carolinacommitment.unc.edu.
When information about an academic scandal lasting nearly two decades started surfacing in 2010, the University began making changes. One reform was new, specific requirements for course syllabuses.
The scandal resulted from investigations into a scheme of paper classes, which was comprised of classes with no recorded attendance and required only one assignment — a single research paper submission, according to independent investigator Kenneth Wainstein’s “Investigation of Irregular Classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,” released in Oct. 2014.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the University’s regional accrediting body, issued a letter to Chancellor Carol Folt in July 2015 asking the University to provide them with information by April 2016 about reform measures being taken and their effectiveness.
“The University continues to devote extraordinary resources to monitoring and refining the more than 70 reforms and initiatives put in place since 2011,” Folt said in a statement responding to the letter.
The Carolina Commitment website lists these reforms, saying UNC plans to “... ensure academic irregularities do not, and will not, happen again on our campus.”
A few of the points on Carolina Commitment relate to new requirements for syllabuses.
In Oct. 2012, the Faculty Council accepted “Resolution 2012-11. On Guidelines for Course Syllabi,” which provides faculty with details about what information must be included in their class syllabuses including the honor code, a time table, course resources and a warning about syllabus changes. Faculty must also retain their syllabuses for at least four years.
UNC spokesperson Jim Gregory said passing such resolutions is a multistep process.
“Suggested changes all go to the Educational Policy Committee,” he said. “They study them and determine whether they are worthy of legislation. If it comes to a resolution, that ultimately goes to the Faculty Council.”
Creating a direct link between the irregular classes and the syllabus changes is inaccurate, Gregory said.
“It is important to note that the syllabi changes were being examined by the Educational Policy Committee prior to the revelations about irregular classes,” he said. “The changes were later included as part of the actions put in place to ensure course integrity.”
Sociology professor Andrew Perrin was a member of the Educational Policy Committee when the syllabus guidelines were originally proposed. He later became a member of the Student-Athlete Academic Initiative Working Group.
Perrin said the goal was to create a uniform set of expectations for what students should see on a syllabus and that this goal then aligned with the University’s reforms.
“We thought, ‘Can we use the syllabus as kind of a litmus test for making sure that a class is genuine?’” he said.
Three years after the reform was passed, English lecturer David Monje said he approves of the syllabus requirements.
“It helps the professors be more organized, and the students know what the expectations are,” Monje said.
Physics professor Gerald Cecil said the changes were a great development.
“The more information students have about what’s in a course, the more informed of consumers they are,” Cecil said.
English professor Marianne Gingher said some of the requirements, such as the Honor Code, can lead to syllabuses that are lengthy and redundant.
“I think that today’s student feels completely overwhelmed by the amount of information being slammed at them,” Gingher said.
However, she said she recognizes the syllabuses adjustments as an important improvement.
“I understand the changes, especially since the school has undergone recent scrutiny for some misconduct,” Gingher said.