Photo by Dan Sears
CHAPEL HILL – In mid-July, UNC’s Faculty Chair, Jan Boxill, was accused by the News and Observer of a cover-up for an internal University email about how to title a supporter of athletics in regards to the review of the African and Afro-American Studies Department.
Boxill says she was cast in a negative light just by trying to help the University in a time when it was on thin ice with the NCAA, the media, and even the public.
“It’s painful,” Boxill says. “I’ve been trying—in very many ways—to get out in front of some of the things and also to recognize that no issue is simple.”
The AFAM scandal prompted internal reviews, as well as a review by former North Carolina governor, Jim Martin, which concluded, among other things, that the issue within the department dated back to 1997, and an ongoing review led by the president of the Association of American Universities, Hunter Rawlings.
Aside from being the faculty chair, Boxill is the Director of the Parr Center for Ethics and a senior lecturer in philosophy. She says one of the areas she teaches a lot about is taking the broad approach rather than narrowing the focus.
“Every issue we deal with is complex, whether it’s affirmative action, whether it’s abortion, whether it’s the voters’ rights,” Boxill says. “It’s so complicated. But, when we try to just sort of focus on one part of it, you lose the force.”
And she says that by the N&O pointing out just a small segment of a chain of emails written between faculty, the issue was taken out of context.
“It’s easy to criticize one aspect, but if you look at the overarching, then you see there’s a lot more strands than just the single issue, because it’s always easy to take a single issue,” Boxill says.
Boxill explains the correspondence in question was within a subcommittee she formed out of the elected Faculty Executive Committee of which she says she found three of the most critically-minded faculty. She says she formed the subcommittee after four or five faculty told her enough was enough and that the faculty needed to take a proactive approach and get to the bottom of the situation.
“It had nothing to do with the NCAA,” Boxill says. “This was clearly only a faculty committee.”
The N&O reported that Boxill urged a change in the reports’ wording so the NCAA wouldn’t return for another round of investigations. However, Boxill says the requested change came down to the use of the term booster when describing Debbie Crowder in the subcommittee’s report.
“Booster has a specific meaning for the NCAA as somebody brough up in the meeting—not me,” Boxill says. “They said let’s change it then, because we’re not intending to use their definition. We’re looking at it as simply a supporter.”
She says the subcommittee then decided that anyone could be a supporter of athletics.
“In the end, people thought that this claim was irrelevant or it wasn’t important, because it didn’t change any of the recommendations,” Boxill says. “It was the recommendations that we thought were most important; they stayed; and it was out of those recommendations came the Governor Martin report and the Hunter Rawlings panel which we’re still waiting on.”
The public release of the emails, as requested by the N&O, came nearly a year after they were written, which Boxill attributes to the mere fact of the high volume of public information requested.
Boxill says the fact that the information was received in email form and without the whole story—the narrow focus rather than broad, as she mentioned—likely contributed to the situation being taken out of context.
“Emails are not the best way to communicate, because you read them as you want to read them not as perhaps they were intended,” Boxill says.
Boxill’s three-year term as faculty chair expires in June. She says, while she’s enjoyed her time in that position, she’ll be continuing to focus on reviewing policies and procedures at UNC in new and different ways, including a summit this spring in which she says she will be teaming up with different departments of the University.