Education

Boxill defense claims she gave no special help to UNC players

UNC academic scandal explained

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill endured a multi-year NCAA investigation into a system of fake classes taken by thousands of students, roughly half of them athletes, that spanned three decades.
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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill endured a multi-year NCAA investigation into a system of fake classes taken by thousands of students, roughly half of them athletes, that spanned three decades.

Jan Boxill, the former UNC-Chapel Hill philosophy professor and academic counselor to women’s basketball players, has issued a strongly worded denial of NCAA allegations that she provided impermissible academic assistance and special arrangements to the athletes.

In a 54-page response, Boxill’s attorney, Randall Roden, wrote: “It did not happen. Not one of the Allegations against Jan Boxill is true.”

Boxill’s response, obtained by The News & Observer, previews the battle ahead at the coming NCAA infractions hearing. The NCAA has focused many of its accusations against Boxill and women’s basketball, without specifically mentioning football and men’s basketball, whose athletes were also enrolled in the no-show African and Afro-American Studies classes at the center of the long-running scandal.

The NCAA’s April 25 amended Notice of Allegations (NOA) charged the university and three former employees, including Boxill, with five Level I violations, considered the most serious.

Boxill’s response said that her help to students was not to gain an advantage for athletes but to help them succeed in college. The examples raised by the NCAA focused on female athletes who were facing personal crises and needed extra attention, the response said. Boxill provided the same type of teaching and mentoring to disadvantaged students who were not athletes, her attorney said.

  

“Jan Boxill’s interactions with students were conscientious efforts on her part to teach students by meeting and talking to them for hours and hours, monitoring their progress, explaining and critiquing their work, correcting their mistakes and helping them learn how to do college level academic work,” Roden wrote.

“The bitter irony is that the handful of examples that UNC and the NCAA have chosen to question involve students whose personal life circumstances were unimaginably horrible,” the response continued. “It was not because they were athletes that they needed, and got, extraordinary devotion and extra attention – it was because they were students who needed and deserved a college education. They were not going to survive in the University with the daily challenge of dealing with their life circumstances.”

In the allegations, the NCAA quoted emails from Boxill to students in which she said she was adding a conclusion, or rewording text or editing papers, and in some cases students responded with thanks.

Her attorney said the emails show a distorted picture of the back-and-forth between Boxill and her students, suggesting that Boxill wrote passages when they were in fact written by students.

The allegations of misconduct and unethical behavior against Boxill “are factually wrong in every instance” when examined individually, the response contends.

I didn’t write their papers. I didn’t change things in the sense of content.

Jan Boxill, former UNC-Chapel Hill philosophy professor and academic counselor to women’s basketball players

The document redacts the names of student athletes to protect their identity. It said the students involved did not gain an unfair competitive advantage as athletes or for the UNC team. Any benefits were educational and not substantial or extensive, the response argues, and therefore should be treated as less serious Level II allegations by the NCAA.

Boxill explained in 2015 interviews with the NCAA that she made suggestions to students, or showed them passages as examples.

“I didn’t write their papers,” she said, according to an excerpt of the transcript. “I didn’t change things in the sense of content.”

The university’s response to the NCAA, released Tuesday, agreed that Boxill had provided extra benefits in 15 of 18 alleged instances in her work as an academic counselor to athletes. UNC characterized the help as “limited,” ranging from a few sentences to four paragraphs in students’ lengthy papers. The assistance constitutes a less serious, Level III violation, UNC argued.

The university disagreed that Boxill engaged in unethical conduct as defined by the NCAA, “though her actions fell short of the University’s own standards.” UNC said that in Boxill’s work as a faculty member, her actions may have been intentional in helping students, but she did not knowingly provide extra benefits as alleged by the NCAA.

The response offers detailed responses to the specific allegations of Boxill’s help to individual students.

For example, Boxill is accused of providing a bibliography about the federal Title IX law for a student’s paper. The annotated bibliography in question was provided by Boxill freely outside her office to anyone who wanted it, to be used as a starting point on Title IX resources. “There was nothing inappropriate or improper about supplying the bibliography to a student – even if the student was an athlete,” the response said.

In another example, Boxill is accused of providing a student an introduction to a paper. The introduction was about hip-hop music, but, according to the response, the student in question was actually interested in writing on another topic, children’s literature and black history. The text provided by Boxill, written by another student, was meant as a sample to show how an introduction could be done.

The student involved was questioned about her interaction with Boxill by NCAA enforcement staffer Kathy Sulentic, who asked: “Would she do editing? Would she cross words out? Would she say, “This word’s misspelled? What would she do?”

The unidentified student answered: “I pretty much did my own papers, so she didn’t write on my papers. She may have gave me some advice on, you know, how I probably can word it differently, but I did all my work.”

The transcripts quoted in the document provide a glimpse into the investigative process of the NCAA.

Sulentic followed up: “So at any point did she ever write a part of your paper during your career here at North Carolina?”

The student responded: “Absolutely not.”

Several of the NCAA allegations accuse Boxill of adding content to students’ papers, but Boxill disputed that, saying she corrected grammar or made suggestions. In one email included in the response, Boxill tells students to work together in study hall, but “be sure in turning in homework it is YOUR OWN WORK.”

On one occasion cited by the NCAA, Boxill sent an email to an exercise and sport science professor about a student, asking if the student’s paper was good enough for a C+. The implication was that Boxill was pushing for a certain grade.

Boxill’s attorney produced a previous email exchange between the two professors, in which the other professor described to Boxill what the student would have to accomplish to earn a grade as opposed to an “Incomplete.” Boxill’s response regarding the C+ was, in essence, repeating what had earlier transpired in an email between the two.

The response quotes partial transcripts that provide a glimpse into the investigative process of the NCAA.

Last year, an NCAA questioner sought to pin down Boxill on the extent of her help to students, according to the document. “Where is the line?” the enforcement staffer asked. “Help me understand in your mind where the line is between helping, genuinely helping a student, and crossing the line to doing something that’s impermissible, whether it’s NCAA impermissible or institution impermissible?”

Boxill responded: “I never thought of anything I ever did was impermissible.”

She also said she knew nothing about irregular classes in AFAM, or that an office manager, Deborah Crowder, was grading students’ papers. But she frequently recommended AFAM courses to students. She said she did so because she thought the professors were good and the subject matter important.

Boxill, 77, was forced to retire last year after being accused of wrongdoing in the 2014 report on the scandal by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein. She had served as the leader of UNC’s faculty, and had led UNC’s Parr Center for Ethics. But her reputation and career were destroyed “by endless repetition and publication of false and baseless claims,” the response said.

“The NCAA is challenging a Professor about how she teaches her own students,” Roden, the attorney, wrote in the response. “The extent to which the NCAA presumes unethical behavior by a superb teacher whose field includes ethics is incomprehensible enough by itself. When you learn that the facts have been misrepresented by the NCAA, and are contradicted by other available evidence, it can only be described as an outrage.”

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill endured a multi-year NCAA investigation into a system of fake classes taken by thousands of students, roughly half of them athletes, that spanned three decades.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

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