Faculty have been far too silent during this academic scandal

One of the most curious features of the athletic/academic “scandal” that has recently consumed UNC is the degree to which faculty have been content to sit on the sidelines.

Meetings of the Faculty Council, where top University administrators and the Chair of the Faculty routinely take questions about general University business, have provided a likely vehicle for faculty activity on this front.

But a review of meeting minutes between Sept. 2010 — the first “scandal” meeting — and April 2012 shows a grand total of 14 questions from the floor with anything to do with the scandal.


Jay Smith is a professor of history and former associate dean for undergraduate curricula at UNC.

Six of those 14 questions were concentrated in one Dec. 2011 meeting, prompted by the hiring of football coach Larry Fedora.

Strikingly, the majority of the 14 questions posed over this two-year period came from the same four faculty members (including one of my colleagues in the department of history).

Nor have there been many signs of life outside of the Faculty Council. There have been no demonstrations, no petitions, no teach-ins and few public comments.

While the University’s reputation for integrity, high standards and responsible self-governance went over the cliff, faculty remained asleep at the wheel.

The potential consequences of this lethargy are on full display in the recently released Martin Report.

In that report former governor Jim Martin places most of the institutional blame for the scandal on the faculty athletics committee, which failed to respond to concerns allegedly raised by the athletics department in 2002 and 2006 on the subject of teaching practices.

The record of faculty athletics committee meeting minutes and the recollections of faculty who served on the committees in question directly contradict this story, which was based largely on the account of the former director of the Academic Support Program in the Loudermilk Center.

There is no sign anywhere in those minutes of discussions about unorthodox teaching, no sign the former chair of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies was ever singled out for scrutiny, no sign the faculty athletics committee affirmed the importance of academic freedom in the face of questionable pedagogy, no sign the concept of the “paper course” — a course involving no instruction but only the completion of a 20-page research paper — was ever broached and no sign faculty warned athletics officials not to question faculty teaching practices.

Yet Gov. Martin adopted the story provided to him by athletics officials, and he crafted his central conclusions around that story (which is cited four different times in the report). Then the chancellor announced at last Friday’s Faculty Council meeting that “we embrace the report” as the official account of the scandal.

If this affront to the reputation of the faculty and its elected committees is allowed to stand, the history of the UNC scandal of 2010-2013 will one day make for painful reading.

Many will assume, on looking at the record, that it had all been the fault of the faculty. After all, a world-class faculty would surely have defended itself if it had been wrongly accused.

Thanks for reading.

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