UNC-Chapel Hill Professor: “How College Athletics Ate Academic Freedom”

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Source: Wall Street Journal

UNC-Chapel Hill History professor Jay Smith has published a powerful editorial in the Wall Street Journal (print version: May 1, 2018. Jay tells a chilling story of how university administrators attempted to suppress a course he teaches on college athletics.

Jay’s op-ed, entitled “How Sports Ate Academic Freedom,” is available here:

We encourage you to read the op-ed, share it with your friends and colleagues, and post it to social media. The op-ed could be an effective way to initiate conversations about AAUP’s principles. It would also make a good topic for a chapter meeting.

Jay shows how years after the University of North Carolina’s academic-athletics scandal, the state’s flagship university continues to let big sports interfere with the curriculum, academic freedom, and institutional integrity. In his op-ed, Jay explains how he developed and taught a course on athletics that was partially based on a book he co-authored on the scandal (Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports, Potomac, 2015, with Mary Willingham). Once administrators became aware of this course in 2017, they attempted to suppress it. While the course was eventually reinstated, Jay initiated a grievance against the administrators who, he contended, had violated his academic freedom. The grievance committee “decided unambiguously in [his] favor.” Yet UNC-Chapel Hill’s administration simply rejected the faculty committee’s findings.

The lessons of Jay’s experiences are sobering. He concludes: “At UNC, the power of big-money sports led administrators to defend the legitimacy of fake classes that had no professor. It then led them to wage an all-out war against a real class that asked common-sense questions about sports in institutions of higher learning.”

The North Carolina Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) supports Jay’s position. This incident is troubling for three reasons:

1. Significant evidence (corroborated by the faculty grievance committee) suggests that university administrators intervened specifically for the purpose of quashing a class that had been approved according to regular university procedures. The fact that the class was reinstated when these administrative actions were exposed does nothing to alter this disturbing fact.

2. The university administration rejected the findings of the faculty grievance committee. While they were within their rights to do so, this dismissive attitude undermines due process and administrative accountability.

3. Lucrative athletic programs and the university administrators who support them have become such powerful forces on university campuses that they are in a position to undermine the academic integrity of university programs.

Please share and circulate Jay’s article. Academic freedom and shared governance are central to AAUP’s values. We need to stand with our colleagues any time they are violated.

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