It would not be a huge stretch to say that University of North Carolina -Chapel Hill professor Jan Boxill wrote the book on sports ethics.
Boxill — a philosophy professor who until recently served as the director of the UNC Parr Center for Ethics — is currently working on a manuscript titled “Front Porch Ethics,” dealing with ethics in sports. She has given multiple presentations and papers on the topic, and in 2003, edited a book of essays titled “Sports Ethics: An Anthology.”
There is no questioning her expertise in the field, or the level of respect she enjoyed at UNC, where she had served as Chair of the Faculty. As attorney Kenneth Wainstein noted in his recent investigative report detailing the scandal surrounding UNC’s fake “paper classes” — which never met and only required one final paper from students — “Numerous interviewees told us of their admiration for Boxill and how much Boxill has given of herself to the University and to the women’s basketball team.”
So the question is, how did this well-regarded ethics professor and faculty leader find herself at the center of the scandal?
For many years, Boxill was the academic counselor for the UNC women’s basketball team. As revealed in the Wainstein investigation, Boxill was actively colluding with members of the African and Afro-American Studies department to secure specific grades for student athletes, as well as to cover up plagiarism and other academic policy violations.
According to the Wainstein report, “Jan Boxill was fully aware of the lax work requirements and grading standards in the paper classes and that [former AFAM administrative assistant Deborah Crowder] played a substantive and substantial role in the classes and the grading.”
In one particularly blatant email exchange, Boxill and Crowder agreed to give a women’s basketball player a D for a final paper that cited no sources, didn’t answer the original prompt, and appeared to be “recycled” from a separate class.
As described in UNC’s report last week, Boxill and Crowder “simply ignored the glaring deficiencies in [the basketball player’s] paper so as to allow her to graduate.” At the time of these emails, Boxill was the director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Philosophy, as well as the director of the Parr Center for Ethics.
According to a UNC spokesperson, Boxill’s only current title with the university is teaching professor. UNC did not confirm that Boxill lost her directorship, but released on a memo on Friday announcing an interim head for the Parr Center for Ethics. The press release did not mention Boxill, who had been director since 2006.
Last week, student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel confirmed that Boxill was one of nine employees facing disciplinary action following the Wainstein report.
Boxill’s friends and colleagues seem unable to make sense of the revelations in the report.
“Jan is so, so ethical. It just — I don’t know — I can’t even make sense out of it. It doesn’t feel right to me,” one biology professor who is good friends with Boxill told The Tar Heel. “Clearly bad things happened. I mean, clearly bad things happened. It just does not ring true to me that Jan would cross a line so completely.”
One explanation for Boxill’s apparently out of character actions may have an ethical base — that she was trying to help students who were ill-prepared for the academic rigors of a UNC education. Various reports on the school’s athletic program have found serious issues in basic skills in many student athletes’ reading and writing abilities.
A University of South Carolina sport management professor who collaborated with Boxill on a book chapter on sports ethics described her potential ethical dilemma to the Chronicle of Higher Education as, “If you have students who are plopped down within an inherently corrupt system, do you have a moral obligation to help them?”
This very well may have been the question she struggled with. A UNC business school professor who is friends with Boxill told the Chronicle, “It would be easy, knowing her spirit of being a very caring person, to imagine that she would try to do whatever she could to help … But I’ll never know what Jan was thinking at the time.”
Boxill’s actions, as detailed in the Wainstein report, may have a negative impact on her campus presence. Campus leaders should be seen as people who will guide policy development and are “expected to be standard bearers,” says Ann Skeet, the director of leadership ethics at Santa Clara University’s
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
“A university’s mission is the creation and transmission of knowledge. Students need to feel that there is some authenticity. She’ll now have young people who had been looking up to her questioning how much of standard bearer she really is,” Skeet told Business Insider.
Skeet said that while she understands the desire to help students who “are working beyond the scope of their abilities,” this kind of aid may be more harmful than beneficial.
“Even if she’s looking at it as sort of supporting the student’s individual rights, it would be hard for me to understand how just brokering the grade is serving the student fully. More effective would be to help the student actually learn how to write a paper,” Skeet said.
Business Insider has reached out to Jan Boxill in multiple emails, and will update this post with any comment.
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