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UNC to NCAA: Allegations Are Too Harsh

The University has made it clear to the National Collegiate Athletic Association that it believes the NCAA has overstepped its jurisdiction in its allegations against UNC over the handling of a long-running athletics-academics case.

“The Amended Notice of Allegations does not conform to the NCAA’s constitution and bylaws in several ways,” lawyers hired by the University wrote in a 70-page response to the NCAA. The response is posted on the University website at carolinacommitment.unc.edu/updates.

The allegations, they wrote, “refer to core academic issues of course structure, content, and administrative oversight that are beyond the scope of authority granted to the NCAA by its members. Such matters concern fundamental issues of institutional and academic integrity, not athletics compliance, and the University has addressed them with its accreditor.”

Following a year’s probation, UNC in June was restored to full compliance with the standards of its accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The University received its first Notice of Allegations in June 2015 in the case involving a long-term scheme in which hundreds of students — disproportionately varsity athletes — took classes that did not meet and required minimal writing in exchange for good grades issued by an administrative assistant. A second NOA was necessitated by the University’s self-report of apparent additional violations of NCAA rules in August 2015, and the amended notice was received in May. The University responded to that notice on Aug. 1.

The response says that issues about which the NCAA knew when it issued an infractions report in 2012, included in the latest allegations, should have been dealt with at that time. It says that under the NCAA’s bylaws, “the NCAA’s prior decision on those matters is ‘final, binding, and conclusive,’ and issues raised in the previous investigation cannot support allegations” in the second notice.

The response also calls the NCAA out on its four-year statute of limitations, saying the amended notice is thereby untimely.

UNC’s response calls its claims that the NCAA overstepped its bylaws “threshold issues” and says that “the source and limit of the NCAA’s authority, should be its primary consideration.” In the event the NCAA decides to proceed beyond the threshold issues, the University offered individual responses to the five allegations.

Regarding the allegations themselves, the University maintains that:

  • Jan Boxill, a longtime member of the philosophy faculty and academic adviser to the women’s basketball team, provided extra benefits to athletes in 15 of the 18 instances alleged by the NCAA. But it disagrees that Boxill engaged in unethical conduct as defined by the NCAA, “even though her actions fell short of the University’s own standards.” The school says Boxill’s actions constituted at worst a Level III NCAA violation, not the more serious Level I that is alleged;
  • The architects of the fraudulent class scheme, former AFAM department Chair Julius Nyang’oro and former administrative assistant Deborah Crowder ’75, violated NCAA ethical conduct rules but points out that the pair could not be compelled to cooperate in the NCAA’s investigation;
  • While it failed to monitor Boxill’s actions, the University’s failure amounts to a Level II violation, not Level I as alleged; and
  • Contrary to the NCAA’s allegation, UNC did not engage in lack of institutional control in failure to identify and investigate the fraudulent courses and its failure to adequately guide staff in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes.

Boxill, who had been chair of the faculty and was director of the University’s Parr Center for Ethics, resigned in February 2015; the University gave her notice of its intent to fire her on Oct. 22, 2014, the day the Kenneth Wainstein report was released. Wainstein conducted the most comprehensive investigation into the matter of the fraudulent AFAM classes.

Also on the day of the Wainstein report’s release,  Jamie Lee, an adviser in the academic support center for athletes, was fired. Beth Bridger, one of Lee’s colleagues who was working in a similar role at UNC-Wilmington, was fired by UNC System President Thomas Ross ’75 (JD) on the day of the report’s release.

Lecturer Tim McMillan ’80 , a member of the AFAM faculty for 20 years, resigned. McMillan also has master’s and doctoral degrees from UNC, from 1982 and 1989.

The University later fired two more people: Brent Blanton, associate director of the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes; and Travis Gore ’00, administrative assistant in the AFAM department.

Nyang’oro had resigned as chair of the department and then retired prior to the Wainstein report’s release. Crowder had retired before the troubles became public.

The University reminded the NCAA that it had undertaken some 70 policy and procedural reforms designed to ensure that “the types of irregularities that occurred here could ever recur.”

Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham said that the University was not volunteering self-imposed penalties ahead of a meeting later this year with the NCAA committee on infractions and that he would not speculate on whether it would take that step later. Schools that find themselves in trouble with the NCAA’s rules sometimes self-impose penalties to try to mitigate the severity of the organization’s punishment.

The amended Notice of Allegations said that “Jan Boxill … knowingly provided extra benefits in the form of impermissible academic assistance and special arrangements to women’s basketball student-athletes.”

It went on to say that “individuals in the athletics and academic administrations on campus, particularly in the college of arts and sciences, did not sufficiently monitor the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes and the African and Afro-American Studies department. Certain AFRI/AFAM courses were anomalous because they were designed as lecture courses but taught as independent study courses. The nature of these anomalous courses went undetected or was known and not addressed due to the institution’s failure to sufficiently monitor the department’s operations and students’, including student-athletes’, enrollment in such courses.”

It charged that Crowder and Nyang’oro failed to cooperate with the NCAA’s investigation.

The Boxill violations, the failure to monitor and the actions of Crowder and Nyang’oro together constitute lack of institutional control, the NOA said.

There are three key differences between the Notice of Allegations sent to UNC in June 2015 and the amended NOA sent last May. They involve the time span of questionable activities, the sports involved in arrangements between the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes and the AFAM department, and the culpability of staff at the ASPSA.

  • The original NOA said the former department of African and Afro-American studies “created anomalous courses that went unchecked for 18 years.” The amended version narrows that to the period “from the 2005 fall semester and continuing through the 2011 summer semester,” and appears to shift the onus away from the ASPSA-AFAM relationship, stating, “individuals in the athletics and academic administrations on campus, particularly in the college of arts and sciences, did not sufficiently monitor” ASPSA and AFAM.
  • The original said the ASPSA used fraudulent courses offered by the AFAM department to help maintain the sports eligibility of academically at-risk athletes, “particularly in the sports of football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.” The word “football” and the term “men’s basketball” do not appear in the amended NOA. (Women’s basketball is specifically listed as having received “impermissible academic assistance.”)
  • The original NOA said, “Athletics academic counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA) leveraged their relationships with faculty and staff members in the African and Afro-American Studies (AFRI/AFAM) department to obtain and/or provide special arrangements to student-athletes that were not generally available to the student body.” The second NOA put the blame on “institutional leadership,” stating that “those charged with providing academic support for student-athletes did not believe their actions or the actions of the AFRI/AFAM department were inappropriate.”

The next step is expected to come this fall, when University officials meet with the NCAA’s infractions committee.

UNC’s response concludes: “It would be an unprecedented application of NCAA rules to impose a penalty on institutional employees, student-athletes, or sport programs that are not the subject of, or even referenced in, an allegation” in the amended NOA.

On the day UNC released its response to the NCAA, Boxill’s lawyer gave The News & Observer a 54-page response to the amended Notice of Allegations. It began:

“It did not happen. Not one of the Allegations against Jan Boxill is true.” The newspaper posted the response for public view.

The original NOA cited six instances in which Boxill, who once was chair of the faculty, headed the University’s Parr Center for Ethics and was an academic adviser to the women’s basketball team, improperly helped athletes by amending and adding content to academic papers. The amended NOA cited 23 instances after UNC self-reported additional information on Boxill in August 2015.

Her lawyer, Randall Roden ’68, writes: “The text in the emails that UNC and the NCAA accuse Jan Boxill of writing came from the students themselves, not from Dr. Boxill. She has consistently been denied access to the database of her own emails that would have enabled her to demonstrate the truth. But through months and months of painstaking research and talking to the students themselves, she has been able to reconstruct many of the specific interactions — and now has emails that show without doubt that the questioned material was created by the students and given to Dr. Boxill by the students. This entire case is based on assumptions that are not correct and are not supported by a single witness.” Roden also is a 1976 alumnus of UNC’s law school.

The response goes on to cite specific email exchanges with students and to portray Boxill as dedicated to helping her students learn and devoted to uplifting students with bad “life circumstances.”

“The bitter irony is that the handful of examples that UNC and the NCAA have chosen to question involve students whose personal life circumstances were unimaginably horrible,” the response says. “It was not because they were athletes that they needed, and got, extraordinary devotion and extra attention – it was because they were students who needed and deserved a college education. They were not going to survive in the University with the daily challenge of dealing with their life circumstances.”

The response includes transcripts of interviews between NCAA staff and students in which the students, whose names are redacted, support and laud Boxill and deny that she wrote papers for them.

Boxill says she knew nothing about the fraudulent classes in AFAM devised by Crowder or that Crowder was grading the papers for classes that did not meet with a faculty member.


 

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