Philosophy professor Jan Boxill was named as an active participant in an academic fraud scheme in a 136-page report issued earlier today [that is, yesterday or the day before] 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.DN has some juicy 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. ... 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)And:
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)The DN comment thread is pretty interesting, too. Some comments were pretty critical of Boxill, but there was also some dissent:
This is way more complicated than you are making it out to be. Many of these athletes were recruited, in effect, to work for the university (play sports publicly so that the university could make money) and with the promise that this path – the path of the athlete – was the key to their future. Their lives are parallel to the normal students’ lives and their responsibilities as students should not be uncritically understood along the same lines as the responsibilities of the more typical student. It is not surprising that these athletes do not take their education seriously. And, there are some grounds for viewing these athletes’ “compensation” of a credential from the university as something they had earned *simply by playing sports for the university* [emphasis added]. So, it is not surprising that some academics viewed the athletes’ educational requirements as somewhat less demanding than the normal requirements borne by the typical student.Now, I don't want to overplay my disagreement with this, because there's a lot in this comment that I agree with. I think it's abundantly clear that the NCAA is a corrupting influence. There's a lot of money there, and the incentives it provides are all wrong. And I think it's also abundantly clear that the student-athletes are often exploited. They are set up to fail--their responsibilities to the athletic department often don't leave them with the time they'd need to to be academically successful, and so they aren't able to take advantage of the educational opportunities that are allegedly their main/only form of compensation. But then the school has an incentive to maintain the athletes's eligibility anyway, and we're off to the races. It's a serious problem, and in all seriousness it's likely that it's at least somewhat of a problem at your school. If your school takes any form of athletic competition seriously in any way, there is very likely to be some kind of shenanigans relating to recruiting the athletes and preserving their eligibility.
But you cannot solve this problem by doing the student-athletes' homework for them. You cannot solve this problem by helping the student-athletes to cheat on their tests. And you cannot solve the problem by creating fake, no-show classes with no material, no instruction, no requirements, and no faculty involvement. If you're doing that, you're part of the problem. When you give the student-athletes fake classes they didn't take and then fake grades they didn't earn and then fake degrees they don't deserve, that is the corruption. That's what it is.
Now look. I work at a school like that. Athletics are extremely, remarkably, incredibly important here, and I see the corruption, and I don't know what to do about it. I don't know what the right thing to do is. And it's not at all clear that washing your hands of it, and thereby turning your back on students who are being exploited and need help, is the right answer. But a school that makes a policy of awarding academic degrees to student-athletes based on work performed on the basketball field rather than in the classroom has sold its academic integrity, and its plain-old integrity, for sports and money.