Next week, a UNC-Chapel Hill class on college sports will delve into the athletic and academic scandal that has dogged the university for years. On Tuesday, according to the syllabus, the topic will be “covering up.”
The course, “Big-Time College Sports and the Rights of Athletes, 1956 to the present,” is taught by history professor Jay Smith, a frequent critic of the university administration and co-author of a 2015 book on the UNC scandal.
Smith, whose academic expertise is in early-modern France, said the course has aroused the concern of administrators and the athletic department since it was launched this year. And a few weeks ago, the history department chairman told Smith there was an effort to do away with the course, Smith said.
“It’s clear I was singled out for this kind of scrutiny and my department chair was pressured because of the nature of this course,” Smith said, adding: “It feels like I’m being subjected to a kind of scrutiny that other faculty don’t have to worry about, and it feels like my academic freedom is being hemmed in in ways that are unusual.”
UNC officials deny there was any pressure to drop the course, which has 30 students.
In the end, the course was not eliminated. But it won’t be taught next year, said history department chairman Fitzhugh Brundage, “because of departmental priorities and our teaching needs.” It will be on the schedule again in the fall of 2018, he said.
The course examines the growth of big-time college sports since 1956, when the NCAA authorized “grants in aid,” or scholarships for athletes who could play while getting a free education.
It explores the rise of TV money, multimillion dollar coach salaries and luxury stadiums. According to the syllabus, the course “considers the practical and moral implications” for universities and for college athletes. It delves into women’s sports, racial equality and health impacts for athletes, and one session looks at “academic malpractice.” Later this month, News & Observer reporter Dan Kane, who has written extensively about the UNC scandal, will speak to the class.
Students are required to read the book “Cheated,” which was co-authored by Smith and Mary Willingham, the former academic counselor who was a whistleblower in the UNC case.
When asked whether he was pressured to drop the course, history department chairman Fitzhugh Brundage said: ‘I can’t answer that question.’
But the class is about more than UNC, Smith said.
“The purpose of the course is not to to pick on UNC or to shame or humiliate UNC, it’s to show that what happened at UNC was the product of long-term historical forces,” he said.
Still, Smith said it has made some at UNC uncomfortable.
The course was created through a normal process, Brundage said. It was reviewed by a department committee and then submitted to the dean’s office. He said he was not aware of any controversy at the time.
But when Smith first taught the course in the summer, Brundage said he began to get questions from “faculty and others.” They asked why the course existed, and Brundage said he told them that the course had been approved and was “an appropriate and valuable addition to our curriculum.”
Brundage said other than the initial questions in the summer, “I’ve never had any communication from anyone else who has identified who it is who’s concerned about this course.”
The course, he said, had been popular and received positive reviews from students.
Brundage declined to identify the people who initially asked about the course. When asked whether he was pressured to drop the course, Brundage said: “I can’t answer that question.”
Kevin Guskiewicz, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said he met with Smith last week. He said Smith told him he’d heard through the grapevine that there was pressure from either the UNC system’s Board of Governors, the UNC Board of Trustees or the athletic department.
“Nobody has suggested that Jay Smith can’t teach that course,” Guskiewicz said. “They’re not going to get in the way of our curricular issues.”
Guskiewicz, who is new in the role of dean, said he’s asked all departments to review their curriculum to make sure that courses are attractive to students. Some humanities departments have seen declining enrollment, he said.
For administrators to pay any attention at all to the creation or scheduling of an individual course is exceptional. It’s unique in my experience.
Jay Smith, UNC history professor
“We’re asking every department to be strategic and think about their curriculum,” he said, pointing out that the College of Arts and Sciences had suffered a $2.2 million budget cut this year.
He added: “I have not been pressured by anybody around this course.”
Guskiewicz, who has done research on sports-related concussion and brain injury, has guest lectured in Smith’s class, he said.
Smith said the argument about strategic planning didn’t make sense to him. “For administrators to pay any attention at all to the creation or scheduling of an individual course is exceptional,” he said. “It’s unique in my experience.”