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Below are Chair of the Faculty Jan Boxill’s comments to the Board of Trustees on January 22, 2014.

Good Afternoon. We were all hoping that 2014 would bring a resolution to move forward in our continuing effort to correct the academic abuses and shortfalls in our advising processes for student athletes that have been bared in the past few years. But alas, UNC is continuing to have to spend a great deal of time responding to restatements of the same abuses. Faculty members spent an hour at last Friday’s Faculty Council hearing detailed reports from the chancellor, provost, and director of admissions regarding the latest charges about the academic preparedness of our student athletes.  In a civil, respectful discussion, Faculty Council members raised a number of substantive questions, arising from their genuine and deep caring about the welfare of our students.  But we also appreciated the detailed, factual analysis that our administrators provided to help us understand the nature of the latest charges and the different picture presented by the university’s own data.

We are not through talking, I am sure, but I, and I believe the faculty, are looking to allow the changes and reforms already put in place to work to make sure we provide a top-quality education for all of our students admitted to this amazing university.   We are educators, and it is our job to educate the students before us.

The fact is, too, that most faculty know that many of our students come to us less-well prepared in various ways, and the University does its due diligence in providing resources to support their success.   My faculty colleagues and I frequently recommend students to seek help from the Writing Center, the Learning Center, Academic Success program for Students with LD & ADHD, Psychological Services, Peer and other Tutoring programs, the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling, and yes, the Academic Support Center for Student Athletes.

To address the issues discovered in the past 2-3 years, the University has put in place a variety of reforms as well as restructured not just the Academic Support Center for Student Athletes but other services as well to provide for the success of all our students.  Changes to a complex system such as the university don’t come overnight, especially if we want to get them right.

I believe we all recognize the tremendous challenges that some of our student-athletes face in balancing their pursuit of a meaningful academic career with athletics, but they are not alone.  They are the high profile ones.  So it is our duty to mitigate those challenges, to be a national leader in reform. We have a long way to go, but I believe we are on the right track to do this and we will continue to provide support and services for all those who face the challenges in achieving and taking advantage of the best that this university has to offer, if we are to be the university of the people.  Dr. Michelle Brown, Director of the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes, and her staff are working on strengthening present programs and developing future ones to provide services for all student athletes across the academic spectrum. We also want to recognize and applaud the efforts of Steve Farmer and his Admissions staff in reducing the number of committee or “at risk” cases dealing with athletes, over the past few years.

This past week I spent two days with the Franklin McCain, Sr. family listening to words of wisdom that he liked to share with friends and family.  Two statements stuck with me:  One was that “We can’t live our lives looking into the rear view mirror, but looking forward with a mission.”  And the other was: “Looking back, we always ask ourselves if we could have done things sooner and differently, but we all could have, should have, and would have done things differently, we can’t change that, we can only go forward doing the best we can to get it right.”

Here at Carolina, we have examined the past, we have done a great deal to rectify the issues, and we continue to move in the right direction in an effort to get it right to fulfill the mission of this great university, especially with Provost Dean’s Athletics Task Force, which continues to look at every part of how the university relates to its student-athletes.

For the past several months, meanwhile, I have been working on a sports summit with representatives of the US Anti-Doping Agency, the UNC Athletics Department and Sports Administration department, and the Penn State Department of Athletics and Sports Studies. The summit will be held on May 2-3 here in Chapel Hill and is entitled: True Sport U: The Impact of College Athletics on Education, Youth Sport, and American Culture. This first-of-its-kind, national summit promises to have a lasting impact on the complex and changing conversation about sports culture in academia and in our communities.   The summit, which is open to the public, will feature prominent sport leaders, scholars, coaches, athletes, parents, and journalists discussing a broad range of effects of collegiate athletics on American society from their unique perspectives. A follow-up summit will be held at Penn State in 2015.  The summits are designed to catalyze new action that makes significant, meaningful progress. We are hoping our keynote speaker will be Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education.  We are awaiting his response.

At the same time, our faculty are focusing on many other issues: one is open access publishing.  If you aren’t familiar with this issue, it involves finding ways to encourage publication of scholarship—especially articles—on the open web where they are available to everyone for free.  This would be a change from current practice, which usually entails publishing new research in journals that require subscriptions or payments to access.  The pressure to provide the fruits of scholarly research to the public for free is coming from several directions in response to several impulses:

  1. The first is the high (and ever-increasing) cost for university libraries of electronic subscriptions to many journals (and journal databases).  This becomes especially troubling when you consider that the universities have subsidized creation of the research that they then have to pay to access.
  2. The second factor is new policies from several federal granting agencies that require research produced with public monies to be made available for free to the public.
  3. The third trend is the recent adoption by several other top universities (University of California system, Harvard, Princeton) of policies that require faculty research to be deposited in open repositories.
  4. And finally, there is the idealistic belief that new research and knowledge should be widely shared, rather than hidden in databases or in pay-for-use sites that only certain people can access.

While open access would in some ways seem like an obvious way to go, it actually affects scholars in the various disciplines differently.  Even if access to scholarship is ultimately made free, the review, editing, and publication process is not free, and the sources of funds available to support these activities differ greatly from one discipline to another.  In the humanities, for instance, the business model underlying scholarly and journal publishing depends in many disciplines on a subscription model, while in the sciences, very large grants often provide funds to subsidize the open-access publishing process.  Additionally, the problems of high subscription costs and stringent policing of copyright differ across publishers and databases.

There are, in any case, many problems to solve before a full open access policy can be adopted.  To that end, I am forming a task force to discuss the complexities involved. I will bring more about this at your next meeting, and we welcome any input from you.

A matter that has occupied our Educational Policy Committee has been developing policies to accommodate the new drop/add deadline set by UNC General Administration. You may remember we have discussed this with you many times  this past year.  Essentially we restructured our pass/fail policies to lessen the negative impact of the new drop/add policy on our students.

Finally, the University has undertaken reforms to the Honor System, which promise to reinvigorate faculty commitment to the system.  Both the drop/add and honor system policies will go into effect in the Fall of 2014, and we are confident they will have a positive effect on our students and faculty.

While not all members of the faculty agree on everything, we recognize that we must respect differences while working together as partners to succeed in our educational mission.

Let me end by echoing Chancellor Folt’s words, “Whether we agree or disagree, we must welcome healthy debate, respect each other and in that way show the true character of our Carolina community.”

Thank you


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