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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