To many in academe, the most intriguing question following last year’s bombshell report of widespread academic fraud at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was not “How could this happen?” but, instead, “What was Jan Boxill thinking?”
Ms. Boxill, an ethicist and former chair of the Chapel Hill faculty, was found to have been a willing participant in the fake-classes scheme, conspiring to manufacture grades in order to keep athletes eligible to compete when she was an academic counselor for the players. Here’s a now-infamous example of Ms. Boxill trading emails with the mastermind of the scheme, the former manager of the department of African and Afro-American studies, Deborah Crowder:
Colleagues reacted to the report with shock, saying Ms. Boxill had been one of the most widely respected and trusted leaders at the university.
On Friday the university released 214,000 pages of documents related to the investigation, which was led by a former U.S. Justice Department official, Kenneth L. Wainstein. In those pages, Ms. Boxill’s inbox gets prominent play. (Ms. Boxill has never commented publicly on the findings about her conduct as an academic counselor, and she resigned earlier this year, after the university moved to fire her. She did not return a call on Tuesday requesting comment.)
A brief and incomplete examination of her emails yields no further smoking guns, but does smother the reader in irony. For example, her inbox is filled with articles and manuscripts about ethics in sports — “Sport as a Public Forum For Ethics,” “The Moral Significance of Sport,” and “A Brief Guide to Ethical Decision Making,” among them. (Bullet Point No. 1? “Do not let purposes and goals block your moral vision.”)
Here are three other tidbits:
1. She once asked Julius Nyang’oro, the former department chair of African and Afro-American studies, to be an honorary guest coach of the women’s basketball team.
Along with Ms. Crowder, Mr. Nyang’oro was assigned the most responsibility for carrying out the fake-classes scheme. Here he politely declines a request from Ms. Boxill to be an honorary coach:
2. She called the first news article that suggested she had played a part in the scandal a “non-story.”
In 2013, The News & Observer’s Dan Kane wrote an article suggesting Ms. Boxill had massaged a faculty report’s language, omitting mention of Ms. Crowder’s ties to athletics, so as to avoid prompting action from the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The day the article was published, her inbox was filled with supportive messages from her colleagues. Her response to one:
Later, she elaborated:
And then, in an email to a faculty member asking her to explain her side of the story, she cited the article’s attempt to “keep a perceived conspiracy alive.”
3. At an awards banquet for the women’s basketball team, she praised the work of an academic adviser later implicated in the scandal.
In 2013, Ms. Boxill, who was a radio announcer for the team, served as M.C. of its awards banquet. Her prepared remarks show she gave special recognition to Beth Bridger, one of the academic counselors implicated in the scandal. Ms. Bridger was one of the authors of this PowerPoint slide, shown to football coaches in 2009 after Ms. Crowder announced her retirement:
Ms. Bridger was fired by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington after the release of the Wainstein report. In 2013, Ms. Boxill praised her in this way:
Bonus: She may have outed the finalists for UNC’s chancellorship in a to-do list she sent herself.
Ms. Boxill made it a habit to email herself to-do lists. Pretty normal, but it becomes problematic when your emails are all accessible to the public through open-records requests. In this email, she appears to identify the last names of people who may or may not have been finalists in the university’s then-active (and very secretive) search for a new chancellor. Carol Folt, then Dartmouth College’s acting president, was named chancellor in April 2013, less than two months later.