The NCAA has focused on nearly two dozen emails and a half dozen students’ papers as it lodged allegations against Jan Boxill, the former UNC-Chapel Hill faculty leader and academic counselor to the women’s basketball program who’s accused of giving impermissible academic assistance to athletes.
The emails are primarily between Boxill and unidentified students regarding papers the students were writing. They show Boxill editing grammar, suggesting approaches and inserting content.
“The paper is good,” she wrote to one player, according to an email exhibit released by UNC on Thursday. “I added a brief conclusion which follows nicely from what you have.”
Boxill then tells the student to hand deliver it when it’s finished to Deborah Crowder in the African and Afro-American Studies Department. Crowder has been identified in several investigations as the mastermind behind the “paper classes,” which never met and led to high grades for students after little work.
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Boxill, who was chair of the faculty and a philosophy professor, was forced out of the university last year. She has denied knowing that Crowder, an office manager who was not on the faculty, actually graded the papers. In an extensive interview recently with The News & Observer, Boxill said she was not part of the scheme that helped keep athletes academically eligible, though she did frequently recommend AFAM classes to students.
She said she worked closely with students to help them succeed, but when asked if she crossed a line, she said: “I don’t think so. What you see in those emails are small snippets of what I actually did with the students.”
Her attorney, Randall Roden, said he would defend Boxill before an NCAA hearing, and if necessary, in court. He suggested that women’s basketball is becoming the scapegoat of an 18-year academic and athletic scandal, while the NCAA appears to be giving wide berth to the revenue sports of football and men’s basketball.
The Boxill emails, he said, are misleading.
“The emails themselves are not self-explanatory,” Roden said. “There’s a whole lot missing. You don’t know the communication that went before. In most cases, you know what the document is that’s being transmitted; you don’t know what was done with it afterwards.”
The papers show detailed exchanges about students’ work, often very late at night. Boxill tells the students she corrected errors. She tells them to include a bibliography, and even what size font to use.
“I’ve attached your paper,” she wrote to one player. “I made some grammatical changes, and added some quotes if you want to use them. Also the conclusion is good – I edited it.”
Then she added: “Sorry about the game. I was so sure we were going to win in regulation!”
Roden said such back-and-forth was not unusual for Boxill, who used an instructional approach aimed at helping stimulate students’ thinking.
“In general, what’s missing here is that she met with the students in every one of these instances,” Roden said. “The material came from the student, not from her. When she says she’s added a conclusion, it’s a conclusion that they composed. The student had the ideas and the language and Jan is essentially doing the word processing in this thing. She is not writing the student’s material; she’s taking down what they’re talking about and then she emails it to the students.”
In one case, a student writes to Boxill that she got a grade of 50 percent on a paper that “we wrote together on one of our trips.” She doesn’t understand why she got such a low grade.
Roden said the low grade is evidence that Boxill didn’t write. “The point is that Jan didn’t write the paper for her, she just gave her suggestions and help about how to do it,” he said.
Another email exchange between Boxill and an unidentified faculty member appeared to show Boxill suggesting a grade for an exercise and sport science course. She writes that a player has turned a paper in. “She has one of the reviews done and should be sending that today as well,” Boxill wrote to the professor. “I am hoping that these are sufficient for perhaps a C+ and we can get the grade changed tomorrow.”
Roden identified the faculty member as Marian Hopkins, a longtime dance professor who retired a few years ago.
When reached Thursday, Hopkins recalled the incident. She said that Boxill, as academic counselor for women’s basketball, had called to check on the student’s progress in a modern dance class. Hopkins said the student performed well on the physical dance requirements but had struggled with the written assignments. The student was having a personal problem that was causing her stress, Hopkins said.
“I think she asked me, ‘What does she have to do to improve?’” Hopkins recalled of her conversation with Boxill.
Hopkins suggested extra written work. “I might have asked her to do a longer paper to help pull up her grade,” Hopkins said. “I think she had a C- and so I thought that was sufficient for bringing it up to a C+.”
Hopkins said she had been concerned about the student and told Boxill the best she could do in the class was a C+ because of a poor exam grade.
“In my opinion, (Boxill) was not dictating,” Hopkins said.