Philosophy Professor Implicated in UNC Academic Fraud Investigation (several updates)


Philosophy professor Jan Boxill was named as an active participant in an academic fraud scheme in a 136-page report issued earlier today by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill entitled “Investigation of Irregular Classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies.” The report details the existence of a number of phony “paper classes.” According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, these “masqueraded as lecture courses but never met, and required only that one paper be submitted.” The paper was assigned not by a professor, but by the department manager, who then “graded the papers, generally giving students A’s or B’s as long as the papers met the assigned length. Many of the papers were plagiarized but still received high grades.” The system was in place for over 15 years.

According to the CHE article, this department manager, Deborah Crowder, was “part of a ‘good old girls’ network consisting of women like her across the campus who wanted to help students who were struggling with classes… who sent some students who were having personal problems that were interfering with their studies to Ms. Crowder’s fake courses.”

The article continues: “One of the most notable cases may be that of Jan M. Boxill, a philosophy professor and director of the Parr Center for Ethics. She was also an academic counselor to women’s basketball players who sent students to Ms. Crowder and suggested the grades they should receive. Ms. Boxill went on to serve as chair of the faculty for three years.”

Some excerpts from the report:

In addition to Reynolds’ grade guidance, our email review disclosed several instances where Boxill made specific grade suggestions for her women’s basketball players. In September 2008, for example, Boxill forwarded a paper on behalf of one of her players, to which Crowder responded that “[a]s long as I am here, I will try to accommodate as many favors as possible,” presumably signaling her willingness to grant grade requests up to the point of her retirement. As to that particular student’s paper, Crowder then said “Did you say a D will do for [the basketball player]? I’m only asking because 1. no sources, 2, it has absolutely nothing to do with the assignments for that class and 3. it seems to me to be a recycled paper. She took [another class] in spring of 2007 and that was likely for that class.” Boxill replied “Yes, a D will be fine; that’s all she needs. I didn’t look at the paper but figured it was a recycled one as well, but I couldn’t figure out from where.” (p.40)

There were 114 enrollments of women’s basketball players in the paper classes between 1999 and 2009. It appears that many of these players were likely steered to these classes by their counselor, Boxill. (p.48)

The third tutor who admitted stepping across that line to some extent was women’s basketball academic counselor Jan Boxill. In our review of Boxill’s emails, we discovered a number of instances where Boxill helped her players by drafting small amounts of original text for their papers. On one occasion, for example, she reviewed a player’s draft paper and emailed it back to the player saying that she had “made a few changes” to the paper. On another occasion, Boxill emailed a player a revised paper and explained that she had “add[ed] some stuff for the intro and conclusion.” She later sent that same player a revised paper for a different class, noting that she “added a brief conclusion which follows nicely from what you have.” (pp.56-7)

UPDATE: Articles on this from The New York TimesNews & Observer, The Daily Tarheel (includes scrolling timeline of developments in the scandal at the bottom of the article), Business Insider, and Inside Higher Ed.

UPDATE 2 (10/24/14): The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article on the kind of academic support athletes at Division I institutions get, and some of the issues that arise in its provision, here.

UPDATE 3 (10/25/14): The president of the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport (IAPS), Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza, has posted an announcement about Boxill at the IAPS site:

Some of you may have already heard about the unfortunate news concerning Jan Boxill, who had been voted as the next Warren Fraleigh Distinguished Scholar, and her involvement in a case of academic dishonesty at the University of North Carolina. I am writing to you to inform you that she is willingly withdrawing as Warren Fraleigh Distinguished Scholar to avoid further negative press coverage. While we fervently hope for a fair resolution, the executive has accepted her withdrawal. This is the best course of action for the sake of Warren’s good name as well as IAPS reputation.

UPDATE 4 (10/27/14): This additional article in The Chronicle discusses Boxill’s character, her role as an ethicist, and speculates about whether “the ethics of care” played a role in her reasoning.

UPDATE 5 (10/27/14): The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz has some fun with the story.

UPDATE 6 (10/27/14): A philosophy major at UNC writes a letter to the school paper about Boxill (via Joshua Blanchard).

UPDATE 7 (10/28/14): Geoffrey Sayre-McCord replaces Jan Boxill as director of the Parr Center for Ethics. Story here and here.

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Matt
Matt
6 years ago

There is an old saying (about, I suppose, dealing with one’s mistress) that goes, “Say it with roses, say it with mink, but never, ever, say it in ink.” I suppose the general lessons applies to emails and conspiracies to commit academic fraud for athletes, too.Report

ejrd
ejrd
6 years ago

This is why we can’t have nice things.Report

Tim O'Keefe
6 years ago

The report also says, “When we asked Crowder and Boxill about this exchange [the one regarding the basketball player and a D], they admitted their collusion on the grade, but explained that it had nothing to do with eligibility. This was a student-athlete whose playing days were over, who was on the verge of graduation and who needed only a passing grade to get her diploma. They simply ignored the glaring deficiencies in her paper so as to allow her to graduate.”

Any employee who helps commit academic fraud in this sort of way should have their employment terminated.Report

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
Reply to  Tim O'Keefe
6 years ago

@Tim O’Keefe – This is way more complicated than you are making it out to be. Many of these athletes were recruited, in effect, to work for the university (play sports publicly so that the university could make money) and with the promise that this path – the path of the athlete – was the key to their future. Their lives are parallel to the normal students’ lives and their responsibilities as students should not be uncritically understood along the same lines as the responsibilities of the more typical student. It is not surprising that these athletes do not take their education seriously. And, there are some grounds for viewing these athletes’ “compensation” of a credential from the university as something they had earned *simply by playing sports for the university*. So, it is not surprising that some academics viewed the athletes’ educational requirements as somewhat less demanding than the normal requirements borne by the typical student.

I am not so much excusing the behavior of the staff at UNC as asking you to moderate your self-righteous rage in light of the complexities associated with young people being recruited to play sports for major Div-1 universities.Report

Mark Murphy
Mark Murphy
Reply to  Matthew Smith
6 years ago

There is a massive gap between making accommodations for students who live the demanding life of a Division I athlete to enable them to perform sufficiently well in the classroom and the egregious fraud that Boxill seems to have been taking part in. I think Tim O’Keefe’s response is already sufficiently moderated.Report

Tim O'Keefe
Reply to  Matthew Smith
6 years ago

@ Matthew Smith: I didn’t see my comment as especially filled with self-righteous rage. I understand the systemic factors that help lead to this sort of academic fraud, but I don’t think they give us good reason not to fire employees engaged in that fraud. If you think they shouldn’t be fired, please say why.Report

John Schwenkler
Reply to  Matthew Smith
6 years ago

What athletes “earn” by playing sports for a university is not a credential, but a distinctive (because supported by a combination of scholarships, dedicated academic staff, etc.) path toward an education. This is *exactly* why the behavior described is so reprehensible, as it’s part of a systematic failure to give collegiate student-athletes the very thing they deserve.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
Reply to  Matthew Smith
6 years ago

Matthew, this would be right…if Tim were directing his remarks at the student. He’s not. A tenured professor with a cushy job has no excuse whatsoever for committing academic fraud of the type described in this article. It seems pretty obvious to me that being found responsible on those charges should result in immediate termination of one’s job. What’s the counter-argument to that?Report

Clayton
Clayton
Reply to  Matt Drabek
6 years ago

The question about whether there’s any excuse for the behavior is, I think, separate from questions about what offenses are fireable. The IHE article points to some considerations that are potentially mitigating (to some degree at least). You have someone who thinks (rightly) that the student-athletes are being exploited by the University and thinks (rightly) that the University isn’t committed to helping struggling students succeed. This looks like a system in which student-athletes are set up to fail by people who will profit from their failure and offer the victims little to nothing for the harms they suffer. In the experience of some of the parties involved, enforcing standards on struggling students led to their expulsion with tragic consequences (e.g., the cases mentioned in the IHE article of former student athletes who were killed or incarcerated).

The University was setting a large class of students up for failure with no concern for their well-being, so I have some sympathy for someone who would take steps to try to reduce the harms being imposed by a pretty nasty system. The irony, of course, is that the University knew that they were doing this. They also probably knew that the University knew that they were doing this and so thought that there was some sort of tacit consent going on here, but the responsibility seems to fall squarely on the shoulders of the only people in the system acting with concern for the welfare of student-athletes. You might say (rightly) that their way of handling the situation wasn’t appropriate, but that doesn’t speak to the question of excuse. If the primary motivation was indeed concern for the students’ well-being, it’s hard not to see that as mitigating to some degree.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
Reply to  Clayton
6 years ago

Okay, I see. I don’t think you’re wrong about any of this.Report

Tim O'Keefe
Reply to  Clayton
6 years ago

Clayton, your points are well-taken. I agree that the whole system is rotten, that under the circumstances the actions of some professors is understandable (even if wrong), and that we should distinguish between the question of whether there’s any excuse for the behavior and questions about what offenses are fireable.

But I draw the opposite conclusion from these sorts of considerations. Given the overall rotten system and the motives of the people involved, that may give us reason to soften moral judgments about the character and decisions of particular people, even though (I hope) none of us think that the decisions were good. But with regard to what should be a fireable offense, egregious fraud and violations of basic academic standards need to be fireable. D1 athletic programs have all sorts of problems, as you correctly point out, but one of their central problems is the way they often give people incentives to engage in academic fraud on behalf of athletes, whether for altruistic or venal reasons. This undermines and corrupts the university. Solving this problem will require systematic changes. But in the meantime, programs can be better or worse, and we should not tolerate egregious academic fraud.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

It’s kind of sad that my first reaction was relief that our latest professional controversy had nothing to do with sexual harassment.Report

alethia. m
alethia. m
Reply to  Anon
6 years ago

Indeed.

On a semi-related note, I have only had one player in my courses. She was on the soccer team and a philosophy major. The course was a higher level one, and in ancient. That was when I was a graduate instructor.Report

Edwin Sydney
6 years ago

That is an unacceptable trend,All should be done to ensure it ends for once and for all.Report

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
6 years ago

Clayton expanded well on the point I was making. The uncritical and high-minded demand that people aiming to help these athletes somehow deserve summary termination along with our raging scorn seems uncharitable, to say the least.

The actions of these professors might best be understood as caring, not venal. Their methods may be suspect, but their aims praiseworthy. Of course, we cannot know all their aims. But I suspect that most of them wanted the best for these athletes, and did not act for the sake of lining the pockets of the university or satisfying the desires of the boosters. We are talking Coach Taylor motivations, not Buddy Garrity motivations.Report

dmf
dmf
6 years ago

http://www.margaretsoltan.com/?p=45918
Boxill was directly involved in sending students’ work for the classes, Wainstein’s report said, and went so far as to suggest the grades her players should receive.

In one email exchange Wainstein uncovered, Deborah Crowder, the department secretary and mastermind of the scheme to set up the no-show classes, responded when Boxill forwarded a paper for a women’s basketball player in 2008.

“Did you say a D will do for (the basketball player)?” Crowder wrote to Boxill. “I’m only asking because 1. no sources, 2, it has absolutely nothing to do with the assignments for that class and 3. it seems to be a recycled paper. She took (another class) in spring of 2007 and that was likely for that class.”

According to the report, Boxill replied: “Yes, a D will be fine; that’s all she needs. I didn’t look at the paper but figured it was a recycled one as well, but I couldn’t figure out from where.”Report

John Schwenkler
6 years ago

It’s hard to say what is more disturbing in several of the comments here, whether the repeated use of “high-minded” as an insult or the sloppy thinking about the relevance of good intentions.

*Of course* everyone involved was motivated by at least some good intentions — this reflects what is arguably a conceptual truth about the nature of intentional action. But the high-mindedness is a response not to these good intentions, but to the *bad* intentions that Boxhill and others also had, e.g. to commit academic fraud and steer students away from intellectually challenging situations, as well as the actions that realized these intentions. Also worth getting high-minded about the absence of, or at least failure to act on, many *good* intentions that ought to guide behavior in these circumstances, e.g. that one should uphold standards of academic integrity, ensure that one’s students are getting a real education and not just a piece of paper, and keep one’s actions from contributing to an institution’s systematic failure in the above.Report

Anon adjunct
Anon adjunct
6 years ago

When I have had student athletes in class who were unprepared for college, I responded NOT by lowering my standards but by taking steps to EDUCATE them – by helping them myself and directing them to appropriate institutional help. THAT is the right response – you fight for these students’ right to an education. You don’t lie on their behalf.Report

Kathleen Lowrey
Kathleen Lowrey
6 years ago

Does it have to be one or the other? My undergraduate degree is from UNC-CH and my family still lives in North Carolina, so I have been paying attention to this for a while. In North Carolina, there is a huge wave of racist glee about this: African American Studies programs are duh fradulent, pointy headed academics generally are duh fradulent, black people who are at universities mostly get there duh fradulently, etc. etc. So trying to figure out why exactly all of this unfolded as it did is really important because there is a huge ready-made narrative out there being trumpeted from the housetops which is just awful. But I don’t think it is helpful at all, not *at all*, especially in opposing that narrative, to suggest instead that white academics like Boxill were “charitably” motivated in committing fraud. That actually helps the ugliest possible narrative along. Yesterday I looked at Boxill’s CV and just doing a bit of academic parsing it looks to me like being a willing collaborator in a fundamentally exploitative set-up lined her pockets and advanced her academic career really nicely. She was helping herself more than she was helping anybody else by participating in this multi-tentacled system of “let’s have a hugely profitable sports appendage attached to the university, but because of collegiate rules we can’t share any of those huge profits with the athletes actually at the core of it. But we want that money! So let’s have a winky-winky system set up around it that ruthlessly exploits young poor men of color *and* which makes the most cynical possible usage of critical academic studies of racism and sexism [because that huge profit-led male athletic universe requires for Title IX reasons a somewhat comparable universe of women’s athletics]”. She was at the nexus of it in ways that are self-satirizing: she was an “ethicist”? Really? And published on race and gender politics in athletics? Really? And got to have a long career at a top public university, with I am guessing a not shabby by academic standards salary, by doing that? At least with straight up racists and sexists, you know where you are at. With this kind of thing, you have somebody personally making out like an effing bandit via faux social justice profiteering. It’s really bad, it’s really not about wanting “the best” for anybody disadvantaged.Report

Shen-yi Liao
6 years ago

I think where we (me being on the side of Matthew Smith and Clayton) disagree is that you see the 20-somethings involved as students. I see “student athlete” as a cynical hoax perpetuated by the NCAA in order to profit (see http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/10/the-shame-of-college-sports/308643/?single_page=true ). I see the people involved as athletes who are forced to play for a team at the NCAA level for free in order to have some minuscule chance of getting paid for the skills they’ve been asked by this corrupted system to focus on. In a better world, they would not be in an academic system at all (and they’d be paid). So by continuing to go along with the “student athlete” hoax, and thinking in the terms you’ve described, IS to take a series of actions that contributes to an institution’s systematic failure.Report

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
6 years ago

Wow. A lot of people seem to think NCAA athletics is a simple matter: play sports, study hard, and you’ll earn that diploma!

But it’s not that simple. The system is so corrupt that one or two or ten staff members on their own cannot fix it. They confront a broken system and ask, “what power do I have to mitigate its failings?”

It’s easy to go on about special tutoring sessions and extra effort teaching when you have one or two students each semester in your class. Yes! Work harder! Help those two! But what if you have 50 students each semester who need extra help in 10 different classes in three different fields? Then what? Turn your back! Wash your hands of this evil! Let the rotten stuff rot. I have the ideals of a university education to uphold!

It’s complicated, people. These faculty members may have acted wrongly, but it’s not so simple. Put your pitchforks away and ask yourself, “What would I do faced with 50 desperate athletes? Every semester. Every week. Every year?”Report

Philippa Gardner
Philippa Gardner
6 years ago

I am a science professor, but I happen to know that this is an old story. I read both about the problem with UNC’s college athletes: http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/07/us/ncaa-athletes-reading-scores/ and about Dr. Boxill’s involvement in this: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-01-08/why-the-university-of-north-carolinas-sports-academic-fraud-matters-to-everyone several months ago. I suspect that such practices are widespread, and I doubt that the problem can be solved by simply disciplining a few faculty members at some one university. The current system creates deeply perverse incentives. We admit students whose entrance test scores are 300 points below those of their peers, we want them to put most of their time into sports training, and we somehow expect that they will nonetheless get passing grades in their courses. We also appoint faculty counselors to see to it that they do. Well, it ain’t gonna work that way. Athlete counselors are not magicians. We must (finally?) have a serious conversation about how to reform the system. There are a number of solutions I can think of: hire athletes as employees instead of offering them scholarships to enroll as students, offer athletes some sort of “student-athlete” certificate known not to carry the weight of an actual college diploma, keep the current system but put a lot more resources into helping athletes earn passing grades (one counselor peer 200 students is unlikely to be able to do much). If anyone has other ideas, s/he should put them on the table. The important thing is to get the conversation started.Report

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
6 years ago

Schwenkler – This is not a point about the guise of the good. This is a point about what these people were trying to do, namely to help people they judged as being in need of help. They did not try to harm these students. Universities aim to realize values, not just values of academic integrity. We might hope our universities are just places, and do not exploit their students or their staff. Arguably, these athletes are exploited. Much less arguably, these athletes are being left behind by an entire system that clearly isn’t designed to support them. The question the faculty regularly engaging with these athletes face is: What should I do in order to mitigate the wrongs of this arrangement?

It may seem obvious to you that allowing these athletes to fail out of college is the way to go. Or it may seem obvious that working ridiculously hard tutoring them (all of them?) is the way to go. But, for some people, the issue is more complicated. Maybe the thing to do is just to help them get through college and move on.

If there is one thing we can all agree that these professors and staff members failed to do but that they ought to have done, it is that they should have spoken up about the broken system. They should have blown the whistle. But, even this is hard: If they blow the whistle, then what happens to the other athletes current;y in the system? Are their interests sacrificed for the future?

I just don’t see Jan Boxill or anyone else here doing something that is so *obviously* immoral. The status of athletes in NCAA Div 1 schools is so morally disastrous – the situation is so fraught with moral peril on all sides – it is hard to believe that we should expect good people not to be conflicted about how to help out these athletes.Report

Hunter
Hunter
6 years ago

At a certain point, a college or university must decide what is more important: The money or the education? As most institutions are for profit anyway (despite ridiculous endowments in most cases) I think the answer has become increasingly clear. Before professional sports really got off the ground and became the money making monstrosities they are today, it seems to me that those students that also were athletically gifted played their sports and got through the academics just fine. I understand that these yesteryear students did not have all of the travel schedule, all year workout routines, and other time commitments current student athletes (or should I say athlete student) have today but money has to be a primary correlation between a diminished focus on academics and increased focus on athletics/money for the University.

I get it. Prestige and credit taken by the University for the accomplishments of its athlete students bring with it money that can go to fund other athletic and nonathletic functions that benefit many more. Something to be said for that. But at what cost?

Maybe the catharsis is a somewhat balanced approach to the money vs education as it relates to sports or any other activity that demands so much of a student’s time to be focused away from studying or preparing for classes. How to go about that balanced approach appears to be a real struggle for many institutions. While UNC is getting the brunt of this right now, they are hardly the first nor probably the last school to be highlight in the media.

Perhaps if we shifted the focus back to education (which I should not need to say considering these places are supposed to be institutions of higher learning!) and found better mousetraps for securing funding via alumni or other methods, these students and faculty would not find themselves in difficult positions where questionable ethical decisions are made to the detriment of everyone. No winners on this one. Hopefully we use this situation to better future efforts.Report

Kathleen Lowrey
Kathleen Lowrey
6 years ago

Young men of color are not “arguably” being exploited by the hugely profitable U.S. college football and basketball programs and the lower-rent downstream imitators they spawn. They *are* being exploited by these programs. White academics who build their own careers around slapping social justicey looking spackle on this situation are not “good people”. The situation is not “fraught with moral peril on all sides” in some whoopsy-daisy who’s to say who is right? sort of way. One set of not-privileged people is being exploited by another set of very-privileged people. Put this together with Penn State and I feel like the answer actually is really clear: big money college sports need to go. Fantastically talented young athletes who are not quite ready for the pros can be developed through a system of semi-pro farm teams, where they can work for a salary and get decent health insurance and worker’s comp for injuries. Those who don’t make it can then go to college if they choose to do so; scholarship money can be set aside for this. Those who do make it, and earn huge professional salaries afterward, can go to college if they want to when they retire from pro sports. College athletics can be truly amateur, and mashing sports money out of poor young men’s bodies (sorry about the crushed dreams if you don’t make it in the pros AND didn’t actually get a real education AND didn’t earn any money for yourself when you were earning tons for others as a student athlete! Double sorry if you had a life-changing career-ending injury during that time!) can stop. It’s not a woozily mysterious jeepers who even knows what is right and what is wrong? kind of situation. It’s really not.Report

Peter Alward
Peter Alward
6 years ago

I have to agree with Matthew Smith here. Some student-athletes really are people who desire a university education and would benefit from being directed towards “intellectually challenging situations.” And for some of these students the trade off of providing long hours of unpaid profit-generating labour to a university athletic department in exchange for such educational opportunities is a good one. But many student-athletes desire the opportunity to become well-paid professional athletes rather than a university education and, for various reasons, are simply not prepared to benefit from “intellectually challenging situations.” It is these students that are exploited by a system in which university athletic departments have a de facto monopoly on access to the professional leagues. And to insist that such students are nevertheless better off if they are made to do serious university level work under the threat of expulsion is paternalism at its worst.Report

John Schwenkler
6 years ago

Okay, so it is a point about what they were trying to do. And suppose you’re right that they were trying to help people, and even that they succeeded here, to some extent (though I’ll return to this below)

But *other* things they were *also* trying to do, and succeeded in doing as well, were e.g. to commit academic fraud and steer students away from opportunities for genuine learning. That they did these things *in order to* help students doesn’t change that: they did these things, and they were wrong, and not justified by the (supposed) nobility of their end.

Nor, I would add, is that end enough to justify the many unintended but entirely foreseeable harmful consequences of these actions, e.g. contributing to a system that exploits student-athletes and fails to deliver on the promise of a college education.

Finally, *of course* I don’t think those students should just have been allowed to fail out of college; you are setting up a straw man here. What should have been done instead was to *help* those students — though not by giving them a meaningless, unearned degree and sending them on their way, no different from when they arrived at college except a few years older and with their bodies more beaten up, having learned little more than that it is okay to cheat to get ahead, as they really aren’t smart enough to make it on their own. Rather, the students needed to be helped *to learn*, steered toward classes that would challenge them appropriately, encouraged to develop their abilities in ways that would help them later in life.

It seems from these reports that Jan Boxhill and others decided not to do this. What they did instead was to lie, to cheat, and to steal away from these students the opportunity to get a college education and earn a degree from a really excellent institution of higher learning. This sounds pretty obviously immoral to me.Report

John Schwenkler
6 years ago

PS. This was meant to be a reply to Matthew Smith’s comment at 5:05pm.Report

Avi
Avi
6 years ago

You are exactly right on all points. The main problem is that sports programs at most state universities and many private ones in the U.S. are a cherished quasi-religious tradition that alumni and students would never give up. Perhaps a special, less academically rigorous unit of a university, similar to an “evening school” or “college of advancing studies” could be created especially to service the educational needs of student athletes unable to meet the regular university admissions criteria.Report

Avi
Avi
6 years ago

My comment was in reply to Kathleen Lowrey (#25).Report

Karen Stohr
Karen Stohr
6 years ago

Kathleen, I think Boxill acted wrongly and I share your concerns about the impact on African American studies programs. But as someone who knows Jan (because I was a graduate student at UNC-CH during that time period), I think you’re painting an inaccurate picture based on what is surely extremely limited information from her CV. Jan has always cared a great deal about student-athletes, and her commitments on race and gender are long-standing and sincere. She has personally fought some hard battles for race and gender equity in sports and in other domains. I will not defend her behavior, which I regard as indefensible, but the suggestion that she was callously exploiting athletes (especially African-American athletes) for personal gain is unfair.Report

Karen Stohr
Karen Stohr
6 years ago

And my comment was aimed at Kathleen Lowrey’s comment at 12:18.Report

Kathleen Lowrey
Kathleen Lowrey
6 years ago

Karen Stohr — it seems that nested replies are not working, so I’ll just specify you. I don’t know Jan Boxill personally, as you do, and you are right, I am only making judgements based on publicly available information. From that admittedly limited vantage point, her case does seem to raise several non-unique-to-her features. First, we could say, well, she’s just a cog in a structurally racist machine, and she was trying to do good from the inside. I mean, we do say that, a lot, about stuff like this. From somebody who nails race and gender to her career-building masthead, though, I think we might expect more. Second, and a giant sidetrack in a thread that has a lot going on already vis a vis collegiate sports is maybe not the right place to expand on this, from my corner of the universe the deployment *particularly* of putatively “feminist” self-positioning (and I am not putting that in Grumpy Grampa / Rush Limbaugh scare quotes, I’m a feminist) in academic contexts to ends that actually serve existing structures of racism and sexism is something I’ve encountered a little too often not to get my antennae in a tangle about it. Third, as a Carolina graduate, I’ve benefitted directly from the education I got there and also benefitted mildly but overall positively from its basketball legacy — I have some fun memories related to Carolina basketball, it makes an easy topic of conversation and ribbing (rivalries ho ho!) with relatives and people you just randomly run into while in-state, etc. But I’ve also read enough since to realize a lot of lives are really crushed by the existence of those kinds of highly monetized programs. I don’t see how, if that’s what you worked on professionally, you could avoid realizing that. I mean this does look to me like a case of not realizing what your salary depends on you not knowing, but actually a bit more disingenuous than that since one imagines her research interests would have made knowing it inescapable. She hasn’t spoken publicly to my knowledge, however, so she might give a very persuasive alternate explanation.Report

Dale Miller
6 years ago

Insofar as major school/major sports college athletics are exploitative in virtue of bringing in student-athletes who aren’t capable of meeting the schools’ academic standards, it seems like part of the solution is for faculty to hold the line on standards. If athletes can’t maintain eligibility then the system falls apart. That might move us toward a rational world in which baseball’s not the only sport in which athletes who aren’t prepared for college can get paid to play.Report

Hunter
Hunter
6 years ago

Following up on Dale Miller’s comments…..And if we move toward a Pay for Play type atmosphere at the college level then what should accompany it is a move towards de-emphasizing D1 sports and move towards a more D3 type model. However, people are wary of leaving millions in revenue to those respective high octane sports schools on the table that they wouldn’t dare change now.Report

Dale Miller
6 years ago

[I’m worried that my baseball reference might have been opaque. I was meaning to point to the minor leagues, which seem to be a perfectly viable option to playing college baseball.]Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

@Matthew Smith: Your comments here have been really helpful in putting this issue in perspective. I don’t know enough about the case to either defend or condemn the people involved, but I think there’s a very general lesson we can all learn by getting past our knee jerk reaction here:

Don’t assume that ‘just doing your job’ (even where that job is something noble, like trying to provide an education) is a moral safe harbor when you are embedded in deeply unjust or immoral practices. (Bad news: we all are embedded in such practices in most salient social contexts).

Moreover, even if we decide, after reflecting carefully on Matthew’s points, that what Boxill and others did was wrong, it’s far too easy to direct our moral outrage at individual perpetrators while leaving the larger injustice, and those more directly implicated in it, unscathed.Report

Drew
Drew
6 years ago

“In North Carolina, there is a huge wave of racist glee about this”

Glee? Isn’t this whole thing directly driven by predominately white donating alumni who have a juvenile obsession with a pointless sport and would be the first ones to riot if the school actually instituted academic standards that reduced the efficacy of their teams?Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
6 years ago

Well, and if anyone thinks Kathleen Lowrey’s remarks about how sports can develop alternative ways of developing players are controversial, they should look at the biggest sport in US history: baseball! Baseball already does this.Report

Anony
Anony
6 years ago

But isn’t the argument, from Clayton and other commenters, that, everything considered, these intentions were not so bad? Of course it would have been more morally praiseworthy had Boxill and others upheld standards of academic integrity and ensured that student athletes received a real education. The assumptions Clayton introduces, at least as I understand them, are these: that the institutional failure to which you refer is very real; that the burden that some student athletes bear as a result of this failure is significant; and that at least some students athletes, even if only because of the demands placed on them by their athletic program, are not in a position to satisfy extant academic standards honestly. These seem like highly plausible assumptions. And for this reason I find it hard to believe that we are in a position to be “high minded” about the failure of Boxill and others to reform an inveterate system that, among other things, may have implicitly endorsed and encouraged their actions; and to hold academically struggling student athletes to the appropriate standards at the price of altogether depriving some of a degree.Report

Anony
Anony
6 years ago

My comment was intended to be a reply to Schwenkler (#17) and, I might as well add, Schwenkler (#27).Report

Kathleen Lowrey
Kathleen Lowrey
6 years ago

Still thinking about this, and working out in my own mind why I am so uncomfortable with the framing “well, Boxill meant well and was just trying to help”. What bothers me about it is that is reinforces the narrative that this was about well-meaning white people trying to do something nice for disadvantaged young people of color. That narrative is *all over* the phoney, cynical justifications of the whole garbage system, and it is in fact *exactly the reverse* of what is actually going on. What is actually going on in collegiate men’s football and basketball is the ruthlessly venial financial exploitation of (mostly) black young men by (mostly) white men and overwhelmingly white academic institutions. We need, to use a sports metaphor, to keep our eye on that ball. So stories about “oh this nice white person was just trying to help” or “no but she was a woman and a feminist and mostly worked with women athletes” and generally “really this was for the good of young people of color” are *exactly wrong*. Exactly, precisely, funhouse mirror wrong.Report

EnyFuleKno
EnyFuleKno
6 years ago

So your argument is that, as scholars and teachers, we’re not in any moral or practical position to “deprive” people incapable of completing the requirements for a college degree of a college degree? What’s the “price” here meant to be – a moral one? When did we get to the idea that favouritism, deception, and patronising deplete the moral-credit store more rapidly than doing your job, applying standards fairly, and assessing work accurately? If the teachers and scholars have internalised the “everyone is entitled to a degree if they show up” mentality to the extent that we now endorse Jan Boxill’s amendment “everyone is entitled to a degree whether or not they show up”, then fine, give over the academic dean’s office to the millionaire offensive coordinators.
Kathleen Lowrey in this thread has it dead right about the sickly moral self-stroking that keeps this system going, but I’m made more miserable by the widespread condoning of unambiguous academic fraud. People here really do seem to believe that if you see a student a risk of not graduating due to academic failings then you should falsify their record, that faux-student athletes shouldn’t be held to the minimal classroom standards that the other 90% of the student body accepts, and that it’s pedagogically and morally praiseworthy to give illiterate students a degree if they pout their lips, look sad, and gesture vaguely to the fucked-up-dude system that’s trying to keep them down. Not in my (pseudonymous internet) name!Report

Tutor
Tutor
6 years ago

I am a tutor at a D1 athletic department (I also happen to be a graduate student who reads philosophy blogs.) Sorry I am late to the party. Here are some realities, make of them what you may:

First, the publicized cheating scandals may be the exception or the norm, I don’t know. But where I work NCAA compliance has a larger office than the AD, and I cannot put a quarter in the copy machine without them knowing and reprimanding me (that is not a joke or hyperbole, literally the copy machine is monitored in this way.) We meet students athletes never off-campus, but in the same room with no computers every time, and I cannot pass the SA’s paper, like Hannibal Lecter, or even make them a study guide. There are few groups on this campus who would have a harder time cheating than the student-athletes (not to mention their visibility and the stereotype that they get too much help.)

Second, while perhaps some professors make 80K per year and some shoe executives/advertisers make millions, the fact is most of the counselors (and it is more like 1:20, not 1:200) make about the same as high school teachers, are not “mostly white”, and work 60+ hours per week. There are 100+ tutors on staff, ranging from 18 to 50, who make 8 to 10 dollars per hour. We attend regular sessions on implicit bias and stereotype threat, just like many of you suggest for philosophers. THESE are the people who work everyday with the student-athletes. When you talk about the evil, exploitative privileged empire, you should really make clear exactly who you are talking about (shoe company executives, for instance.) Personally, I take pride in the time and effort I have spent helping the student-athletes (and I do think I was helping them.) And, if I may take a page from some of YOUR books, and speak for them, I think in all of those cases they were grateful for my help, and the counseling staff’s help, as well.

Third, there is almost Z-E-R-O communication between the professors and the SA’s (again, at least here.) The student athletes are the most highly visible people on campus, and the majority of professors and other students assume they have it easy, they are dumb, that everything is handed to them, etc. With the NCAA oversight as it is, it would be career suicide, as it was for this woman, to even give the appearance of having helped them cheat. The reality is most of the students are aware of this, and most professors, and this, too, contributes to the student athletes being one of the most honest groups of students on (at least this) campus.Report

Corina Levy
Corina Levy
6 years ago

Although I am not surprised by the reaction described above by Kathleen Lowrey, I believe that the problems do not have anything *essentially* to do with race and racism. It so happens that in this particular case, the fake classes were housed by the African-American studies department. Elsewhere, they are taking place at other departments, for instance, according to a story in the NYTimes from a few years ago, a very similar thing happened at Auburn’s Sociology Department. And these are not isolated incidents. This essay mentions a number of other schools: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/10/02/fraud. In addition, I seriously doubt that the picture would look significantly different if most student athletes were white. It won’t, really. The fact of the matter is that, as Phillipa Gardner above points out, the overwhelming majority of student athletes are not prepared for college-level work and are likely not interested in taking regular college classes (as reveled, among other things, by the email exchanges between Ms. Boxill and some student athletes). There are those who are interested, but I doubt that *those* are the ones taking the fake courses. This is true of student athletes regardless of their race, and it will continue to be true if most of them were white. The system will continue to be plagued by fraud for as long as we keep pretending that these students can earn a college degree at a competitive university. They must be given the option to major in athletics, with minimal academic requirements, or else they must be hired as employees and paid accordingly. If any of them have the skills and the interest to earn a proper bachelor’s degree, they should be given the option to (I, personally, would try to steer such students away from competitive sports, but that point is up for discussion), but we really must not set the system so that young athletes can continue to play only for as long as they earn passing grades in regular college classes. There is a reason why we don’t, in general, admit to college students with poor academic skills and test scores. (Imagine proposing to admit students with the academic skills of student athletes but without their athletic skills to a university like UNC-Chapel Hill. I bet the proposal won’t fly well!). We don’t, because we don’t think they can make it. What odd self-deception mechanism makes us believe that student athletes will be able to? Whatever it is, let’s end this charade.Report

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
6 years ago

Kathleen –

I think that a lot people with whom you take yourself to disagree share your anger. We are very pissed off at the exploitative practices that constitute NCAA D1 athletics.

The point some of us have been trying to make is that when confronted with those practices, it is hard to know what to do. It is all well and good to rage about it on a blog. That is important. But, it does not immediately address the problem.

Some faculty members are confronted daily by the reality of this exploitation. They have to develop some response. They could walk away, but if one’s future depends upon being in the good graces of the athletic department then it’s not hard to imagine that it’s not easy to walk away (especially if one has a young family). If one cares about the athletes and feels like they are getting a raw deal if they are expelled from university when they are no longer useful to the athletics program, then it can feel hard to walk away. And so on.

From the perspective of such a person, words are either very cheap (talk at parties or on blogs is easy) but ineffective, or very costly (one may be sacrificing one’s job by raising a stink about the practices) and still probably ineffective (because arrayed against changing the system are vast powers). Furthermore, it is not clear what to do to help the athletes who come to your door asking for help. It’s really above and beyond for one person to give all the necessary tutoring to every single athlete.

As you should see, I am not justifying the system. I am not even *justifying* the sham grades. I am trying to invite you to see that from the perspective of the people who are caught up in the system – white, black, male, female – it is really, really hard to know exactly what to do in the face of the operations of the system.

One might think I am eliding the racial aspect here. But, I am not convinced by anything you’ve said here that the racial question in this particular case is central. After all, no one – not me, not Clayton, not Shen-yi – is arguing that the current system is just or non-exploitative. None of us are even justifying sham classes or sham grades. Instead, we are arguing that *given the exploitative system* there is a real live question about how best to be in solidarity with those caught up in it. First best might be to fight the system. Second best might be to help those caught up in the system get out of it with something, anything.Report

Noam Oney
Noam Oney
6 years ago

Demotion to adjunct status would be a far worse punishment than termination.Report

Kathleen Lowrey
Kathleen Lowrey
6 years ago

Positing that racism is irrelevant to men’s college basketball and football as we currently know it: I’m at a loss.Report

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
6 years ago

Kathleen – I did not say that racism is irrelevant to men’s college basketball and football as we currently know it.

I said it was not central, by which I meant that there are many other factors in addition to racism at work here, some of which might significantly complicate our understanding of the morality of giving athletes passing grades that are (academically) undeserved.Report

anon p
anon p
6 years ago

“One might think I am eliding the racial aspect here. But, I am not convinced by anything you’ve said here that the racial question in this particular case is central.”
Respectfully, you would be wrong — about the substance re race. The core issues surround major D1 basketball and football, where the racial dynamics are undeniable.

KL’s summary of the situation is basically on track: “What is actually going on in collegiate men’s football and basketball is the ruthlessly venial financial exploitation of (mostly) black young men by (mostly) white men and overwhelmingly white academic institutions.” Yes, I know what I’m talking about — via longtime close observation and brief experience. I don’t have time or energy to make the larger case.

But you can read Taylor Branch, for example, on the topic:
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/10/the-shame-of-college-sports/308643/
Crucial excerpts: “Slavery analogies should be used carefully. College athletes are not slaves. Yet to survey the scene—corporations and universities enriching themselves on the backs of uncompensated young men, whose status as ‘student-athletes’ deprives them of the right to due process guaranteed by the Constitution—is to catch an unmistakable whiff of the plantation. Perhaps a more apt metaphor is colonialism: college sports, as overseen by the NCAA, is a system imposed by well-meaning paternalists and rationalized with hoary sentiments about caring for the well-being of the colonized.”

“’Ninety percent of the NCAA revenue is produced by 1 percent of the athletes,’ Sonny Vaccaro says. ‘Go to the skill positions’—the stars. ‘Ninety percent African Americans.’ The NCAA made its money off those kids, and so did he. They were not all bad people, the NCAA officials, but they were blind, Vaccaro believes. ‘Their organization is a fraud.’”Report

anon p
anon p
6 years ago

Real story, from a friend who played football in the ACC for a long-tenured coach: “Men, classes are about to start — and you know what a distraction that can be….”Report

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
6 years ago

It is so odd that you and KL seem not to want to read what many of us suggesting a more complicated view of things have written in these comments.

We repeatedly have condemned the operations of NCAA D1 athletics. In fact, we were the ones who initially discussed exploitation of athletes by the NCAA and D1 universities. I did not once attempt to rationalise this system, much less justify it. What I attempted to understand and to seek to portray in a somewhat more complicated and empathetic fashion is the problem faced by people who want to help those who are caught up in that system.

I suppose you all are used to arguing against people who think NCAA D1 sports are beyond reproach. This is not my view and I’ve not said anything here to suggest that it was my view.Report

anon p
anon p
6 years ago

MS, I sincerely have no idea what you are complaining about. There is no necessary incompatibility between KL’s summary and what you describe as your attempt “to understand and to seek to portray in a somewhat more complicated and empathetic fashion is the problem faced by people who want to help those who are caught up in that system.”

Perhaps I am confused and in error. You wrote, “I said [racism] was not central, by which I meant that there are many other factors in addition to racism at work here, some of which might significantly complicate our understanding of the morality of giving athletes passing grades that are (academically) undeserved.” (Never mind the idiosyncratic gloss of “not central” — and the fact that you introduced “racism,” not KL.) I don’t understand why you seem to believe that to regard race here as “central” would be at odds with there being “many other factors in addition, some of which might significantly complicate.” Indeed, I happen to accept your view that “the morality of giving athletes passing grades” under these circumstances can be sympathetically “complicated.”

Moreover, you moved the goalposts. At 8:29, you claimed, “But, I am not convinced by anything you’ve said here that the racial question in this particular case is central.” Indeed, KL (11:11) believes that race is importantly relevant — and I agreed. You then inserted the language of what’s “central” and “racism.” To recognize that there are relevant, important racial dynamics is not nearly equivalent to charging blunt “racism.” Report

StuckInGradSchool
StuckInGradSchool
6 years ago

I think Matthew’s point is well-taken. As I read him, he accepts the UNC context as it is. We should be upset with D1 Athletics; we should be upset with how colleges perpetuate this system; we should be upset with professional sport organizations usage of D1 Athletics as minor league systems. Maybe even upset is to minimal a response. I would imagine, as Matthew suggests, that he and Kathleen would agree more than they disagree here.

Within this unjust institutional context, however, there is another question: how to perceive Prof. Boxill’s actions. As I read Kathleen, we can see her as an agent/cog in the exploitative system. As I read Matthew, she is working to support the people that have to contend with an extremely unjust system. The truth of the matter may be somewhere in between. Perhaps we think that she is mitigating the injustice of the D1 athletics and academics. But her actions–even as they are–have implications for the maintenance of the institutions we are all raging against. I am interested in thinking about how to understand that particular relationship. Is it potentially right to help students move through these institutions, if that help means taking what we all agree to be a condemnable action? What does help even mean? Some here seem to argue that help is more academic support/a separate track/or tough love. We might wonder what the impact of setting up a separate track would be–taking race and racism to be central parts of the institutional injustice–a separate track could be shockingly unfair.

It is all to easy to turn Prof. Boxill into a strawman and an object of ridicule, which is a shame because I think her actions are far too complex to condemn so easily.Report