CHAPEL HILL — In the wake of an NCAA investigation and amid the hiring of a new football coach, some University of North Carolina faculty members are urging the university's leadership to assess the role of athletics in campus life.
"We want to make sure that the academic integrity is protected," UNC history professor Jay Smith said Wednesday during a telephone interview. "We want to see what we can do to reduce the walls of separation that leave athletics on one side and academics on the other and that segregates students and takes student-athletes away from the rest of the campus."
Smith and four other members of the UNC faculty recently wrote an open letter to the UNC Board of Trustees that expressed concern about the role of athletics at UNC. The faculty members released the letter on Friday, the day that UNC introduced Larry Fedora as its new head football coach. The university agreed to a seven-year contract with Fedora that will pay him $1.73 million annually.
In the letter that Smith and other faculty members wrote, they asked the university's trustees to address five questions. The first of those was this: "How do the hiring of a new head football coach and the associated contract provisions advance the missions of UNC?"
The letter also asked the trustees to address how the university's academic integrity could be protected "in the competition to move ever higher in football polls." The letter also took aim at the commercialization of college sports, the anticipated fallout from the NCAA investigation into academic fraud and impermissible benefits within the UNC football program and the "increasing segregation" of football and basketball players from the rest of campus life.
Smith said the decision to release the letter as Fedora was introduced on campus didn't come by accident.
"It was something of a spur of the moment decision to draft the letter and circulate it at the press conference," he said. "It was the hiring of the coach that sparked the decision."
Smith said he and his four colleagues who came together to write the letter shared a concern that UNC planned to "resume business as usual (and) assume that the major issues have all been solved just because we changed the coach."
"And we want to make sure that we don't lose this opportunity to pause and reflect on the state of the institution and what the place of athletics should be in the institution," Smith said.
Smith said some members of the faculty are working with university leadership to organize open forums for the campus community to come together and discuss these concerns.
"We're hoping that this committee in the next month or so comes out with a more systematic statement of what we'd like to see done," Smith said.