Congressional Republicans blast accreditation group after it questions UNC’s compliance in forming new school

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx. (Image from

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  • Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) suggested that UNC's Board of Trustees had violated SACSCOC policies during introduction of new UNC School for Civic Life and Leadership.
  • NC's congressional Republicans demand to know why and how she reached that conclusion and information on their policy on responding to media reports.

In a pointed March 1 letter, released exclusively to Carolina Journal before delivery, North Carolina’s entire Republican congressional delegation, short Rep. Dan Bishop, pushed back against Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), the body that accredits higher education institutions in North Carolina and other Southern states.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, new chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, led the letter. The delegation was concerned after comments from Wheelan suggested that she believed the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees had violated SACSCOC policies as they advanced their new UNC School for Civic Life and Leadership, a school within the university that will encourage open dialogue among those of many viewpoints.

The letter quotes comments Wheelan made during a Feb. 7. presentation to the Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina.

“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 . . . that’s kind of not the way we do business,” Wheelan said, according to an article by Jenna Robinson of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

Robinson also quoted Wheelan as saying she would talk to the UNC Board of Trustees and “help them understand it and either get them to change it, or the institution will be on warning with [SACSCOC], I’m sure.”

According to the Republicans’ letter, David Boliek, chairman of the UNC-Chapel Hill Trustees, responded to Wheelan’s comments by saying, “We haven’t received a letter from SACS[COC] and haven’t heard anything from them about our request to the administration to accelerate the development of a [S]chool of Civic Life and Leadership.”

Wheelan was also quoted as saying their letter to the Chapel Hill Trustees would be “just a letter of inquiry” and that nothing was “wrong yet,” but that SACSCOC had a policy of sending letters to their accredited schools if there were media reports suggesting compliance issues.

The congressional Republicans said in the letter that they appreciated the clarification, but they were still concerned by the initial comments, “which appear to put the institution on warning before fully understanding the Board’s action.”

“As members of the North Carolina congressional delegation, we expect accreditors not to pre-judge actions of governing boards, follow normal processes, be attentive to such matters of public importance, and act in accord with federal and state law. We further expect SACSCOC to keep central to its decision-making the need to ensure public university campuses remain a marketplace of ideas,” the letter reads.

To conclude, the group of congressional Republicans — which includes Sens. Ted Budd and Thom Tillis, and House Reps. Virginia Foxx, Richard Hudson, Greg Murphy, Patrick McHenry, Chuck Edwards, and David Rouzer — demanded timely response to four questions:

1. Did you, or anyone at SACSCOC, or anyone on behalf of SACSCOC, send the above
referenced letter or any other written communication to the UNC-Chapel Hill? If so,
please provide us with copies of such a letter(s) and communication(s).
2. Please explain in detail the basis of your stated and unstated concern(s) and explain
with specificity your analysis, including any SACSCOC standards relied upon in your
3. Please explain in detail your “unsolicited information policy” (see footnote 11) and
the required evidentiary basis for sending a letter of inquiry.
4. Please explain what, if anything, SACSCOC does to verify media reports before
sending a letter of inquiry?

The entire letter from the group of N.C. congressional Republicans to Wheelan can be viewed below: