Last July, a special faculty report into the academic fraud at UNC-Chapel Hill made waves by raising the possibility that athletes’ academic counselors steered them to bogus classes in the African Studies Department.
But cut from the report, days before its release, was a potential explanation of why a manager within that department would be involved.
“Although we may never know for certain, the involvement of Debbie Crowder seems to have been that of an athletics supporter who managed to use the system to ‘help’ players; she was extremely close to personnel in athletics,” earlier drafts of the report state.
The final version, released July 26, dropped that language for this: “Although we may never know for certain, it was our impression from multiple interviews that a department staff member managed to use the system to help players by directing them to enroll in courses in the African and Afro-American Studies Department that turned out to be aberrant or irregularly taught.”
At first, the authors, professors Steven Bachenheimer, Laurie Maffly-Kipp and Michael Gerhardt, couldn’t explain the change. But a request for emails and other correspondence related to the report showed when it happened and why: Faculty chairwoman Jan Boxill wanted it cut because it amounted to hearsay. She told the authors that other professors, whom she did not identify, raised that concern.
Boxill, a former academic counselor for athletes, sent an email to Chancellor Holden Thorp and others as the report was released. It mentioned “some slight edits on page 6,” which is where Crowder’s athletic ties had been recounted.
In an email message to The N&O, she said changes were made after comments from the Faculty Executive Committee, which she chaired.
The information about Crowder isn’t hearsay. The N&O had reported Crowder’s ties to the Athletic Department the previous month, and they were later acknowledged in an investigation led by former Gov. Jim Martin, who determined Crowder wasn’t specifically helping athletes. He had not interviewed her and provided little evidence to back his claim. Martin had received both versions of the faculty report.
Other UNC records given to an accreditation commission looking into the fraud connect Crowder and athletes. The university’s initial investigation, covering a recent five-year period, found nine bogus classes that appeared to have been set up by Crowder. Athletes accounted for all but eight of the 56 students enrolled, including 31 football players and eight basketball players.