Saturday, October 25, 2014

Competitive Sports Leads to Academic Fraud at UNC

A report was recently released with findings of an investigation on academic fraud at the University of North Carolina. The report states that an office administrator, Deborah Crowder, established fake classes where students weren’t expected to do anything except submit a paper. The classes became known as “paper classes.” The investigative report revealed that “when Crowder graded the papers, she did so generously – typically with A’s or high B’s – and largely without regard to the quality of the papers.” A majority of the students enrolled in the “class” were student athletes (mainly football and basketball players) who needed a good grade to remain eligible to compete in their respective sport. Just like the frauds we have seen in cycling, competitive sports seems to have yet again created the perfect environment for fraud to occur, and it wasn’t just one person who knew about it.

Of the students enrolled in the paper classes, 47.6% were student athletes, even though only about 4% of the student body are student athletes. There were many people in the athletics department that knew what was going on and sent students to Crowder to take the classes, and some even suggested to her what grade a student athlete needed in order to remain eligible to play. The involvement of the athletics department was further confirmed when Crowder retired. As Crowder approached retirement, academic counselors in the football program made a presentation to the football coaches. The slides they used were uncovered during the investigation. Here is one slide that was particularly revealing:

Slide from presentation given to football coaches
It is evident that the football program knew about the fake classes and even encouraged them. After Crowder retired and the average GPA for football players began to drop, the athletics department urged Julius Nyang’oro (department chair at the time) to pick up the paper classes again. Nyang’oro added six additional paper classes. When grading papers, Nyang’oro looked up the student athletes’ GPAs, received tips from academic counselors for leniency with certain students, and made sure that “any grade he assigned would not lead to academic ineligibility for any students or student-athletes.”

An email from Jan Boxill to Deborah Crowder regarding a students grade.
There were many other people throughout the school who knew about the paper classes and either helped them happen or turned a blind eye. Perhaps one of the most devastating examples of involvement in the fraud is that of Jan Boxill. Boxill was an academic counselor for women’s basketball players, a former chair of the faculty, and, most surprisingly, the former director of Chapel Hill’s Parr Center for Ethics. It’s reported that she is working on a book titled “Front Porch Ethics: The Moral Significance of Sport.” Boxill helped students with their papers and even admitted to going so far as to “feed” students direct text for their papers. She also exchanged emails with Crowder to confirm that certain grades were good enough to keep student athletes eligible.

It is a tragedy how many people knew about this fraud and did nothing. While college sports are important and enjoyable to participate in, this is definitely an example where the drive to have the best teams in America led to some serious compromises in ethics.

If you're interested in learning more about this case you can start with these articles:

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