The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is the organization that accredits institutions of higher learning in our region. The accreditation manual is full of standards on governance, finance, libraries, undergraduate, graduate and professional programs, and on and on. Sadly, UNC has recently been admonished by the Association for allowing students to receive academic credit for fraudulent courses, the most recent incident in the ongoing scandal involving how UNC handles the education of athletes. How does a university verify that courses are meeting according to official schedules for the number of credit hours that are assigned? Just this week many academic departments at UNC received notice that they must provide “physical evidence” that courses are meeting, so some units are considering the use of a photographer to visit random classes to record that a teacher and students are present.
It seems to me that no system, short of George Orwell’s Big Brother screens in each classroom, can hope to document time in the classroom, even if we were to accept the hypothesis that time spent sitting in a room is a valid measure of the educational process. Why just the classroom? Shouldn’t we then be “recording” the countless hours we spend speaking with students before a class starts or after it ends or in the individual meetings where passionate and intellectually curious students explore further the subjects of our classes? Time spent in class provides only a fraction of the education that our students deserve and that we as committed faculty want to make available. As scholars, methods are important to us, so to comply with a method such as the one proposed, a method that hardly seems valid, seems to ask us to violate our basic principles as teachers and our integrity as scholars.
Further, I do not believe that any of these credit hour monitoring proposals would have seen the light of day had there not been exasperation about the disconnect between big time college sports and the mission of universities. There may be more than one reason to create a fake class, but at the very top of the list, with a large gap between number one and number two, is the need to keep revenue generating athletes, eligible. I don’t think that we fake classes in musicology or modern European history or molecular chemistry, because faculty across the galaxy of universities hold one another accountable. The education of our students has built in accountability. The “education” of keeping athletes eligible does not have such accountability, so we devise questionable strategies such as photographing classrooms, a reaction to the degradation of high standards that the athletic scandal has so sadly visited on our fine university.