- Belle Wheelan, president of accrediting body The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) warned the University of North Carolina board of trustees it would receive a reprimand letter after it approved a proposal to accelerate plans for a school focused on civil discourse and open inquiry, the The James G. Martin Center For Academic Renewal reported.
- A letter was not drafted and Wheelan was asked to announce it by former university president Margarette Spellings, Trustee Marty Kotis told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
- “It was odd that she would be speaking with someone outside of the chain of command of the university about a letter,” Kotis told the DCNF.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s (UNCCH) accrediting body president threatened to send a reprimand letter to its Board of Trustees after it approved a proposal to accelerate plans for a school dedicated to teaching civil discourse and open inquiry, The James G. Martin Center For Academic Renewal reported.
Belle Wheelan, president of accrediting body The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) said during a Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina Feb. 7 meeting that a letter would be sent to the board to explain its unanimous vote to accelerate the School of Civic Life and Leadership’s development, according to the Center for Academic Renewal. The vote was criticized by opponents who allege the faculty were not informed about the school ahead of the resolution. (RELATED: Vast Majority Of Colleges Have At Least One Policy That Violates Free Speech, Watchdog Finds)
“UNC-Chapel Hill’s board is going to get a letter because of a news article that came out that said that the board, without input from the administration or faculty, had decided they were going to put in this new curriculum offering. Okay. Explain that, because that’s kind of not the way we do business,” Wheelan reportedly said during her presentation.
Marty Kotis, a UNCC trustee, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that he requested a copy of the letter after hearing Wheelen address it while watching the meeting remotely, but was told by SACSCOC a letter had not been drafted. Wheelan told Kotis that the letter was to inquire, not reprimand, and that she addressed it at the request of former UNC President and commission Co-Chair Margarette Spellings.
Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper created the commission at the end of 2022, but it has no authority over the UNC System, according to the Center.
“It was odd that she would be speaking with someone outside of the chain of command of the university about a letter,” Kotis told the DCNF.
Wheelan also said during the call that she had not read the board’s proposal for the school, the Center reported. She said during the meeting that a letter was warranted through SACSCOC’s “unsolicited information policy” and implied the board’s vote was out of compliance with its standards.
“Unsolicited information is information about an accredited or candidate institution that comes to the attention of the [SACSCOC] typically outside the normal cyclical review of an institution and that appears to call into question significant issues of compliance with the Principles of Accreditation,” the policy reads.
Critics are desperately trying to discredit UNC’s planned School of Civic Life and Leadership. So far, they’ve only managed to discredit themselves. In this case, spectacularly.https://t.co/3c4TX0J2Qm
— John Sailer (@JohnDSailer) February 9, 2023
Kotis told the DCNF that the letter is “not a credible threat.”
“Our school hasn’t done anything wrong and our board hasn’t done anything wrong,” he said. “Now, I would say Dr. Wheelan has certainly done something wrong here and former president Spellings has done something wrong here, but our board is completely within its authority [in] what we’ve done passing the resolution, asking for the acceleration of development. We haven’t violated any rules.”
The board has received similar warnings that it would receive letters from the accrediting body, Kotis told the DCNF.
“I found that interesting because of a prior experience in July 2017 where then Président Spellings had brought in SACSCOC and Dr. Wheelan to speak to the Board of Governors about another supposed letter we had not received – directing the board to ‘stay in its lane,'” he explained.
The board’s resolution unnerved faculty members who alleged they did not know about the school prior to the board’s resolution. Mimi Chapman, chair of the university faculty, previously told the DCNF that “approval of courses, curricula, the creation of new schools and programs, and the granting of degrees is in the hands of the faculty at all accredited institutions of higher education.”
There was also concern that the board voted on the resolution despite it not being on the Jan. 26 meeting agenda. Kotis told the DCNF that the board’s “bylaws allow for items from the floor to be brought up” and that it is a “regular occurrence.”
“The faculty definitely should have say in these items, but it doesn’t mean that all faculty have a say,” Kotis said. “When you’re developing a new program, it’s likely going to be those involved with the program and the provost and the chancellor. The faculty from the math department don’t really have a say in that, other than through their faculty council and them weighing in, but it’s not a right or a … governance. It’s an opinion.”
Wheelan, the Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina, Cooper, the board of trustees and UNC did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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