In 2016, UNC history professor Jay Smith said he wanted to teach a course putting UNC’s athletic-academic scandal into the context of the broader history of big-time college sports.
Smith said there were no objections to the course by any College of Arts and Sciences committees responsible for approving new courses at UNC, and he successfully taught the course in the summer of 2016. However, Smith’s proposal that the course be offered in the 2017-2018 academic year resulted in phone calls from UNC administration objecting those plans.
The American Association of University Professors, a national organization of college and university faculty members and academic professionals, cited Smith's situation as an example of how academic freedom had been threatened in the UNC system in its recent special committee report.
The AAUP claimed, "political pressure and top-down leadership have obstructed meaningful faculty participation in the UNC system, jeopardized academic freedom and reinforced institutional racism."
The AAUP also criticized the system’s racial climate, citing an underrepresentation of faculty of color, unequal chances for faculty to move into positions of power and disproportionate amounts of faculty of color leaving their positions compared to white faculty.
In 2020, New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones accepted Hussman School of Journalism and Media former dean Susan King's invitation to apply for an endowed chair position at UNC. According to the report, the journalism faculty was overwhelmingly in support of Hannah-Jones in a vote on her tenure.
A vote to determine if Hannah-Jones would receive tenure was delayed twice by the Board of Trustees before it failed to approve the journalism school's recommendation.
The AAUP report also cited how major donor Walter Hussman Jr. – who donated $25 million to UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism school in 2019 – sent messages to administrators and trustees about concerns relating to Hannah-Jones' work on the 1619 Project.
Conservative groups with ties to the UNC Board of Governors also called on the BOT to block the appointment of Hannah-Jones.