UNC professors declare support for faculty leader Jan Boxill

jstancill@newsobserver.comAugust 2, 2013 

  • The edits

    •  The first draft of the faculty report said: “Although we may never know for certain, it was our impression from multiple interviews that the involvement of Deborah Crowder seems to have been that of an athletics supporter who was extremely close to personnel in Athletics, and who 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.”

    •  The final version reads: “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.”

— UNC-Chapel Hill’s Faculty Executive Committee, including the three authors of a 2012 faculty report about academics and athletics, have issued a statement supporting Jan Boxill, the faculty chairwoman criticized for suggesting revisions to the report.

The statement, approved by the committee Monday and signed by 16 professors, expressed “our full support for Jan Boxill throughout her leadership as Chair of the Faculty. We have complete confidence in her judgment and integrity.”

Emails published by The News & Observer this month revealed a sometimes heated back-and-forth conversation last summer among three authors of the faculty report and Boxill, who wrote that other professors on the executive committee were concerned about language that “could further raise NCAA issues and that is not the intention.”

A change was made, altering a sentence about a former department manager in African and Afro-American Studies, Deborah Crowder, who helped create bogus classes that kept athletes eligible. The rewrite took out Crowder’s name and a phrase that described her as “an athletics supporter who was extremely close to personnel in Athletics.”

In an interview Tuesday, 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,” partly because of its alternative meaning as a jockstrap.

“The committee found that humorous,” Boxill said. “Then someone said, ‘We’re all supporters. Anybody who goes to a game is a supporter.’ ... So they thought about the word booster, and someone said that booster might have a specific NCAA meaning, which was not intended.”

Booster, she said, typically conveys a meaning of a person who gives a lot of money to athletics programs to underwrite scholarships and stadiums. “That was clearly not ... the intent of the subcommittee members. That’s not what they wanted to convey, and they expressed that. That was the sole talk of the NCAA, nothing else,” Boxill said.

Boxill said she did not remember which members uttered the concerns in a committee meeting last year.

The faculty report was the first official review that suggested athletics may have played a part in the UNC-CH scandal involving dozens of lecture-style African studies classes that never met and were heavily enrolled by athletes. The university has repeatedly maintained that the scandal was not driven by athletics because both athletes and nonathletes benefitted from the fraudulent classes.

The department’s former chairman, Julius Nyang’oro, and Crowder have been blamed for the fraud, which is still the subject of a probe by the State Bureau of Investigation.

Concern over changes

The statement of support for Boxill was signed by the three professors who authored the faculty report – Steven Bachenheimer, Michael Gerhardt and Laurie Maffly-Kipp.

But last summer, the three bristled at Boxill’s suggestions for changes.

At the time, Maffly-Kipp, a religious studies professor, wrote: “Why is it a good thing to remove Deborah Crowder’s name from the report? The fact is, she was close to people in athletics.”

Gerhardt, a law professor, wrote to his two colleagues about Boxill: “She 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.”

In an interview Tuesday, Gerhardt said the 2012 emails do not tell the full story. He said he was out of town, as was Maffly-Kipp, when the executive committee critiqued the wording in the report. So when he and Maffly-Kipp were presented with proposed revisions later, he said, they reacted without a full understanding of the context.

After a meeting with Boxill, Gerhardt said, he became comfortable with the editorial change regarding Crowder and didn’t view it as watering down the report.

The report’s authors declined to make another change.

Free-flow exchange

Gerhardt described the emails as a healthy back-and-forth. “I don’t think, at least in retrospect, any of it is very significant, because we really had a great deal of confidence in the process that produced the report. ... I don’t think we’ve ever second-guessed how that final report looks.”

Other members of the committee said the editing process may have been prickly at times, but they described it a free-flow exchange.

“It’s a very lively group, and people express their opinions very freely,” said Mimi Chapman, a professor of social work. “Sometimes there’s disagreement, and we try and arrive at a solution that everybody feels comfortable with, but there are times where people are clearly dissenting. It’s not a groupthink group by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s not a chair-dominated group where her word is law or anything like that.”

Greg Copenhaver, a biology professor and member of the committee, said there was no plot to cover up information to avoid NCAA scrutiny, only to avoid terminology that was misleading. The changes suggested by committee members, he said, were meant to “shed light on a complicated situation, not obfuscate it.”

Copenhaver called Boxill “one of the most ethically grounded human beings I know.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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