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The Daily Tar Heel

More evidence emerges on Jan Boxill

Jan Boxill

Jan Boxill

According to the report by independent investigator Kenneth Wainstein, the sports ethics scholar steered athletes to fake classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies to help them maintain eligibility to play and graduate.

In a spring interview with The Daily Tar Heel, Boxill, former chairwoman of the faculty, said she never got the chance to completely push her conversations with faculty beyond the academic scandal.

“We were expecting a new page, but I’m not sure we got it,” Boxill said in April. “There’s not one Faculty Council meeting I had in my three years that athletics isn’t brought up. Either I do, the chancellor does or the Faculty Athletics Committee. With the announcement of the Wainstein review, it was another page but not the kind of page we may have thought.”

Emails show Boxill, a philosophy professor, offered 160 independent study courses between spring 2004 and spring 2012, according to records obtained by The Daily Tar Heel.

Wainstein’s report found employees in the African and Afro-American studies department offered fake paper courses for 18 years — and Boxill encouraged athletes to take the classes. But the Wainstein report, like every report on UNC’s academic-athletic scandal, has found the academic irregularities were limited to the African and Afro-American studies department.

But emails released as supplementary documents with the Wainstein report show athletes were also steered to independent study courses Boxill taught. The philosophy professor and former director of the Parr Center for Ethics did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Boxill was embedded in UNC and its athletics program. A master lecturer in the philosophy department, she taught a long-standing class on sports ethics and brought in regular guest speakers like men’s basketball coach Dean Smith. As faculty chairwoman, she attended regular meetings with former Chancellor Holden Thorp’s administration.

Her popularity was not limited to undergraduates and colleagues — women’s basketball players emailed her often. Players opened their friendly messages with “Hey mom” and “Hey pal.”

UNC women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell said Boxill completely oversaw the teams’ academics, making herself available for players at all hours of the day. Hatchell said she never saw any red flags.

Hatchell remembers one instance of Boxill discussing the civil rights movement with players on the bus. Boxill, who grew up during the 1960s, told the players stories about Martin Luther King, Jr.

“That’s why she was so good,” Hatchell said. “She had such a connection with the athletes.”

Independent studies under Boxill

Marc Lange, the current chairman of the philosophy department said independent studies are uncommon because the department has wide course offerings. Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, chairman of the department between 2001 and 2011, said more than 150 independent studies is an unusually large number.

“Why would a student take an independent study?” Lange said. “It’s only for extraordinarily well-qualified students for whom the course material is too elementary.”

Public records show Boxill would sometimes offer multiple students independent study courses each semester; for example, in spring 2005 she taught 20. UNC’s Public Records Office would not distinguish how many students enrolled in Boxill’s independent studies were student-athletes.

The emails released by Wainstein show some student-athletes were enrolled and steered to her courses — but his report doesn’t mention it.

In one case, Crowder referred a student to Boxill for an independent study course after the African and Afro-American studies department was no longer able to provide them — but that wasn’t the only instance.

In a 2006 email to Deborah Crowder, the secretary in the African and Afro-American studies department who Wainstein showed was largely responsible for the creation of the paper courses, football counselor Cynthia Reynolds discussed registering her players for new classes.

“Nice call on the Phil 30 (Boxill) correspondence course last semester,” the email said. “Didn’t know Jan was doing those.”

In emails from later that year, Reynolds asked Boxill to take on a student for an independent study on sports ethics.

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In another case, women’s soccer counselor Brent Blanton referred a student to Boxill who was looking for an independent study. In an email to Blanton, the student said she didn’t care if the course was “basket weaving.”

As of fall 2012, faculty are only permitted to offer two students independent study courses per semester.

Lange said he can count on one hand the number of independent study courses he’s taught since joining UNC in 2003.

Men’s basketball tutor Janet Huffstelter emailed Boxill in 2007, asking her for advice on an upcoming quiz in philosophy.

“(Redacted) had a tough week,” Huffstelter said. “I’m sorry he waited until the last minute to call me in for help. I guess it’s not unusual, though.”

Boxill responded with at least six specific questions that could be on the quiz, according to the emails.

Almost all of Boxill’s emails that were released were either her talking about, or to, students. “I will do whatever I can to help you obtain your degree,” she said in one email.

In another: “Just talked with Betsy Taylor in Steele Bldg, and she said she is making you a candidate for May, and that we are correct-all you need to do to is to PHIL with an A-!! And THAT will be done!!! This so great.”

One student emailed Boxill, asking why she hadn’t heard from Boxill about the independent study course in a few weeks. Another student was looking for a way to get six hours to keep his or her Pell Grant, and Boxill suggested six hours of a philosophy or African and Afro-American independent study.

Another student asked for an extension on a paper, and Boxill replied: “I have to say this is getting ridiculous! You have had the entire term to do *VERY MINIMAL* work.”

In 2009, Boxill said she might apply for Wayne Walden’s position as a tutor for the men’s basketball team, saying coaches Roy Williams and Joe Holladay “would be grateful” if she did apply — or they would also be comfort able with Mary Willingham.

Philosophy students now must fill out an independent study request form, which is submitted to the Director of Undergraduate Studies, who will send it to members of the Undergraduate Committee.

The only person who would know whether academic irregularities occurred in Caldwell Hall classrooms is Jan Boxill, Lange said.

“It’s only recently that the University required independent studies to have that kind of paper trail.”

That highly autonomous academic culture is exactly what led to UNC’s academic-athletic scandal, according to the Wainstein report.

“This hands-off management approach was laudable as a means of fostering academic creativity but lamentable as a mechanism for detecting and preventing the type of academic misconduct that existed in the AFAM department for so many years,” Wainstein found.

‘Horribly betrayed’

Colleagues, like Coach Hatchell, said Boxill was one of the most ethical people they’d ever met.

The findings of the Wainstein report largely misrepresented Boxill, said Kit Wellman, chairman of the Washington University in St. Louis’ philosophy department. He studied under Boxill and now, even in light of the Wainstein report, considers her one of his heroes and models.

“She feels horribly betrayed by a University she served selflessly for decades,” he said.

After initial reports of academic fraud, Wellman said Boxill was shocked.

“The idea that she was complicit and knew the stuff was going on is utterly implausible,” he said. “The investigators have to come to their conclusions. I don’t believe it.”

Senior Colleen Ciszek said Boxill’s compassionate nature made her a great mentor — she once helped Ciszek when she went through a tough time.

“I definitely don’t think this was ever a giant scheme to push some agenda and undermine the integrity of the University and athletics on campus,” she said. “She’s always been such a good advocate for those who are disadvantaged.”

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