Saturday, November 5, 2016

Tarnished Heels -- Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty
Jan Boxill and athletic-minded edits to a faculty report

            As discussed in Chapter Eighteen, wording in a UNC internal academic report released in late July of 2012 had been changed at the last minute prior to its release.  The changes were initiated by Jan Boxill, chairwoman of the school’s Faculty Executive Committee.  When the News and Observer first reported on the changes in mid-May of 2013, some details were lacking as to why the edits were requested.  However, newly released correspondence led to a new N&O article on July 20, 2013.  The apparent motivation behind Boxill’s requests seemed to fall in line with the university’s perceived “athletics first” mantra that had become apparent over the years of scandals.
            The July 20 article, penned by Dan Kane, focused on emails between faculty leaders at the school.  The specific requested change by Boxill was in reference to Deborah Crowder, the long-time administrative assistant in the scandalous AFAM department who also had very close ties to the men’s basketball program.  With regards to why Crowder’s name and specific connections to basketball were being eliminated from the report, a past email from Boxill to the faculty authors of the special internal probe stated:  “The worry is that this could further raise NCAA issues and that is not the intention.”  Essentially, it appeared as if the school (and its leaders) were specifically trying to avoid more attention from the NCAA, and they felt that if too many specifics were included in the report, then the Athletic Association might return and open a new investigation.
            John Thelin, an education professor at the University of Kentucky and author of “Games Colleges Play,” indicated that rewriting a sentence that carried the suggestion of an athletic motive behind the scandal should not have been the mission of a member of the faculty.  “The faculty committee should not anticipate the audience or implications,” Thelin told the newspaper, “but rather fulfill the charge they undertook.”  Jay Smith, the UNC history professor who had long been one of the athletic/academic scandal’s most vocal critics, said of Boxill’s meddling:  “It seems consistent with what I have taken to be the university’s strategy all along, which is they wanted to come up with findings that seemed frank and candid, but which also carefully exclude any further NCAA investigation.”  That would be an important strategy indeed, as the article noted that the NCAA typically did not involve itself in academic fraud cases unless there was an intent to assist athletes above other students.
            Oddly, the change in the faculty report was made after Boxill and several committee members had praised previous drafts, Kane wrote.  Boxill said in an earlier email to the N&O that some faculty committee members objected to describing Crowder as “extremely close” to athletic personnel.  Boxill called it “vague without definite boundaries.”  Seven of the faculty members on the committee in a position to review the report said they did not make the suggestion; the other five who were not authors of the report could not be reached.  Boxill claimed others on the committee had suggested the change, but who those people were remained unknown.  Boxill did not respond to interview requests from the N&O for the July 20 article.
            Along with Crowder having many earlier-documented ties to athletics, Boxill herself was in a similar position.  She was a former women’s basketball coach at another university, and had worked in broadcasting with UNC’s women’s basketball team.  She also had extensive academic ties to UNC athletics.  For over 20 years – starting in 1988 – Boxill had been an Academic Counselor in the Student Athlete Development Center.  Other positions she had held in that Athlete Development Center in the past included the Learning Skills Coordinator, the Freshmen Academic Success Program Coordinator, the Tutor Coordinator/Supervisor, and the Intern Supervisor.  This begged a clear and obvious question: had Boxill used her position as chairwoman of the school’s Faculty Executive Committee to influence the 2012 internal report in an attempt to protect athletics?  Boxill was the first non-tenured faculty member elected to the chairman/woman’s post.  Ironically, the subject of one of her philosophy courses at UNC was ethics in sports.
* * *
            The authors of the 2012 faculty report were Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Steven Bachenheimer, and Michael Gerhardt.  According to the N&O’s article, correspondence among the three showed that they were worried that Boxill would try and dilute the findings of the report prior to its release.  They sent drafts to her in Portable Document Formats (PDFs) so she could not easily alter them.  After a draft of the report had been discussed in a Faculty Executive Council meeting, Gerhardt wrote in an email: “It seems to me that we might need to tell Jan that there is a line we hope she does not cross.”  Maffly-Kipp also questioned the need for the late changes.  “Why is it a good thing to remove Deborah Crowder’s name from the report?” she asked.  “The fact is, she was close to people in athletics.”  Gerhardt, a law professor, wrote:  “(Boxill) is free to disagree with the report as anyone is, but i (sic) cannot believe she has the authority to change what it says.  Indeed, apart from her lack of authority to do this, it strikes me as very poor political judgment.  Just imagine what the papers will do with that.”
* * *
            An editorial was released in the News and Observer on July 24, 2013, by staff writer Luke DeCock.  Following the story of Boxill’s role in the final faculty report, the editorial was largely directed at the faculty in general.  DeCock said that one of the most surprising developments in the three years since the school had admitted academic fraud was the role the faculty had played.  Specifically, “the faculty has been almost entirely absent.  Complicit, by collective silence.  Complicit, in the case of Jan Boxill, by action.”
            When referencing past half-hearted attempts at reform by the university, the editorial mentioned Thorp and his commission of the Martin report.  “Jim Martin, an honorable, respected, dignified man of distinguished service to the state of North Carolina, ended up the figurehead of a report that posed few legitimate questions and answered fewer, a whitewash.”  At the same time, however, DeCock said the faculty’s silence along the way may have been somewhat understandable – if not justifiable.  “It’s not hard to understand why some faculty may not have thought it worth speaking out.  Many had confidence in Thorp, a longtime colleague, and taking a more aggressive public stance would have meant crossing him.”  A year earlier while speaking at a forum on the future of intercollegiate athletics in Chapel Hill, Professor Hodding Carter III made reference to faculty inaction.  “As far as I can see, on one campus after another, the silence of the faculty is very much the silence of the lambs,” Carter had said, “allowing the slaughter of the integrity of the institutions they serve to go forward.”  As was widely known at the time of DeCock’s editorial, essentially the only two UNC faculty members who had shown any sort of displeasure in the university’s handling of the scandal were Jay Smith and Mary Willingham. 
            The piece ended by referencing the late Bill Friday, a long-time academic leader in the state who was associated with UNC.  Also included was a pointed condemnation of the school’s storied reputation:  “Perhaps the disclosure of Boxill’s role will serve as a catalyst for more decisive action on the part of her colleagues, because North Carolina is making a mockery of Friday’s dream.  That’s no way to honor the legacy of a man who deserves better, or a school that once stood for something more.”
* * *
            In an interview almost 10 days later, Boxill finally spoke about the changes she had made to the 2012 faculty report.  In a July 30, 2013, article in the News and Observer, Boxill said her suggestion for a revision came from other committee members who, during a session to review the draft, did not like the phrase “athletic supporter” (when referencing Deborah Crowder), partly because of its alternative meaning as a “jock strap”.  Boxill said she did not remember which members had uttered the concerns in the committee meeting.  As noted in Kane’s article from a week and a half earlier, all of the members he had spoken to had denied making the suggested changes.  Not surprisingly, also left unaddressed in the new article was why Crowder’s name had been completely removed from the report.
* * *
The essential (and unanswered) questions:
-- Did Jan Boxill change the wording of a 2012 academic report with the specific intent of trying to keep the NCAA from returning to campus?

-- Given Boxill’s close ties to UNC athletics for over 20 years, had she used her then-current position of leadership to purposely try and shield the school’s athletic programs from additional scrutiny?