Evidence suggests that a report outlining the investigation into academic fraud at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill was “watered down” in order to decrease the odds that the National Collegiate Athletic Association would impose sanctions on the school’s storied athletic programs. The scandal, and the investigation underlying the report has spanned more than a year, brought down UNC’s then-Chancellor and included a public leak of a student’s entire transcript.
The latest chapter is no less sordid. According to the Winston-Salem Journal, prior to the report’s released on July 26th of last year, Faculty Council Chairman Jan Boxill emailed the authors – who were Chapel Hill faculty members – asking that they alter the portion of the report that said that student athletes were being allowed to enroll in non-existent courses in order to preserve their academic eligibility. Although expressing reservations, the three authors agreed to alter the report, and that portion, along with several others, wasn’t in the published version of the report.
Boxill wrote that the request came from other faculty on the council’s executive committee. “The worry is that this could further raise NCAA issues and that is not the intention,” she said in the email.
As the elected faculty leader, Boxill is one of UNC’s top academic officials. Rewriting a sentence that carried the suggestion of an athletic motive behind the scandal should not be the mission of a faculty, said the author of a book on college athletic scandals.
“The faculty committee should not anticipate the audience or implications, but rather fulfill the charge they undertook,” said John Thelin, an education professor at the University of Kentucky and author of “Games Colleges Play.”
One of the loudest critics of the university’s investigation, UNC history professor Jay Smith, said that the email justified his apprehension that the school was not capable of conducting a thorough, impartial investigation into allegations of academic misconduct internally. Boxill made no public statement on the situation since her emails became public but in an email message to The News & Observer who originally broke the story, she only said that she was passing along the suggestions made by others. She declined to get specific about who those “others” were.
“The concern of (Faculty Executive Committee) members was to make sure the facts were reported correctly without implications and innuendos we were not in a position to know,” she said.
The NCAA typically does not involve itself in academic fraud cases unless there is an intent to assist athletes above other students.
UNC athletics, particularly the football program, has been embroiled in scandal for nearly three years. The NCAA investigated improper benefits from agents and improper help from tutors, leading to a one-year bowl ban, scholarship reductions, the firing of football coach Butch Davis and early retirement for athletics director Dick Baddour.