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History faculty say cancellation of Jay Smith's big-time college sports course violated academic freedom

Professor Jay Smith taught a class about athletes' rights, but it was later cancelled.
Professor Jay Smith taught a class about athletes' rights, but it was later cancelled.

The faculty said that despite media reports that department chairperson Fitz Brundage made the decision to cancel Smith’s class on his own, they believe Brundage was actually under pressure from the college to cancel the class to prevent students from learning about the University’s recent scandals.

“In the absence of any other credible explanation, we believe that the College took this action to block broader understanding of the recent scandals in UNC’s major intercollegiate athletic programs and other violations of legal, moral, and academic standards in the history of modern college athletics,” they said.

Brundage said he had no comment.

The faculty said Smith is a recognized authority on the subject of his course and was “clearly ... singled out for unprecedented and adverse scrutiny.”

The faculty said the College’s actions violate Comprehensive Standard 3.4.10 of UNC’s accrediting agency — the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools — which “requires that ‘the institution places primary responsibility for the content, quality, and effectiveness of the curriculum with its faculty.’”

They said it is clear that this course was scrutinized for its content and that Brundage “felt pressured by the administration to cancel any future offerings of the course until Fall 2018, concerned about adverse consequences for the department if he proceeded with the scheduling of the course in the Fall 2017.”

The faculty members concluded the statement by calling on the University to offer a public statement confirming it will not interfere with Smith’s history course in the fall of 2018 or after.

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Kevin Guskiewicz said he had no comment.

Smith said he is thankful for the history department’s display of support.

“My hope, though, is that others around campus will take note of the history department’s strong statement and realize that something serious happened here and will lend their voices to the protest,” he said.

History professor Harry Watson said history faculty members decided to draft their own statement after the Council of Chairs of the College of Arts and Sciences voiced its concern about the canceling of the course.

“As a matter of fact, there’s a certain amount of ambiguity about what the council chairs did, because the chair of the council chairs decided that the vote was too close to be regarded as a definitive statement,” he said.

“But we, we —when we found out that most of the people, most of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ votes were ‘yes’ on the resolution, we said ‘we ought to back them up.’”

Watson said Smith and Brundage were not involved in drafting the statement.

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