Emails show Jay Smith and big-time sports course faced resistance from athletics

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Professor Jay Smith has claimed his history course was removed from the course schedule in a violation of academic freedom. 

Smith has said he suspects external involvement in the removal of his History 383 course from the fall 2017 schedule. On Friday, more than 40 history faculty members sent a letter to the deans of the College of Arts and Sciences defending his claims.

Smith said the 2016 emails show the resistance he faced in trying to teach the course.

“What they show, as far as I’m concerned, is that each time I tried to teach this course, I encountered stiff resistance somewhere along the way,” he said.

On April 29, 2016, documents indicate Smith asked Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham if he could bring History 383 students on a tour of the Loudermilk Center for Excellence as part of the course.

Cunningham responded to Smith on May 1 and offered to teach the course himself.

“Given that I have a MBA and 20 years of relevant, practical experience in inter-collegiate athletics, I believe I would be better suited to teach this class,” he wrote.

Cunningham denied the request for a tour.

“Given your public position on intercollegiate athletics, I do not think it would be in the best interest of the University nor the Department of Athletics to conduct the athletic facility tours as you have requested,” he wrote on May 4.

The same day, Smith sent an email to Chancellor Carol Folt and Provost Jim Dean to explain his disagreement with Cunningham. Dean wrote back two hours later, saying Cunningham would be in touch to schedule the tour.

Dean then helped Smith gain access to facilities, UNC spokesperson Joanne Peters said in a statement Thursday.

“Provost Dean ensured Professor Smith had access to the areas he needed for his course,” she said. “To our knowledge, Professor Smith was granted the access he needed to teach his class as he intended.”

On May 14, Smith got approval from the department to teach History 383 in fall 2016 in place of an honors course he had been scheduled to teach. Associate chairperson Louise McReynolds said the department had enough honors courses despite the change.

Department chairperson Fitz Brundage wrote on May 16 that he would fight for Smith’s right to teach the course but expected resistance. He said he and Smith should discuss how to handle “the likely blowback.”

“I have no idea about on what basis the higher administration can interfere in course scheduling, but I anticipate that they will try to do so,” he said in an email.

The next day, McReynolds wrote Smith again — this time, to ask if he’d consider delaying History 383.

Smith would end up teaching the course in fall 2016 — but at the end of that semester, the department removed the class from its fall 2017 course listings.

When asked Thursday to comment on the emails, Brundage said he has always supported Smith teaching the course.

“It’s a well-intentioned, well thought out course that has every right to be in the history curriculum,” he said.

Brundage confirmed Thursday that he had discussed the course with administrators and reiterated that it was removed from the schedule for fall 2017 based on department priorities and scheduling needs.

university@dailytarheel.com

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