The Jay Smith case is not about academic freedom

The Old Well on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill.
The Old Well on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill.

Last week, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L. Folt invoked her right under state law to protect the reputation and integrity of the University by disclosing four records related to Professor Jay Smith’s grievance case. (Editor's note: For Jay Smith's view, see this column from him.)

Chancellor Folt believes that transparency is necessary to provide an accurate record of this case. Carolina, like most universities, values its time-honored system of shared governance between faculty and administrators. The entire university also highly values and takes seriously its commitment to upholding academic freedom and the processes designed to protect it.

We believe the documents released show that the process was thorough, by the book and fair. However, Professor Smith’s narrative and the media’s reporting of it do not match the facts.

Provost Robert A. Blouin reviewed the Faculty Grievance Committee’s findings and declined to accept them based on multiple factual and procedural errors and noted that Professor Smith’s grievance was unnecessary because before filing his complaint he had received permission to teach History 383 in the 2018 spring semester.

After reviewing all of the materials, Chancellor Folt agreed with Provost Blouin’s conclusions that Professor Smith was already scheduled to teach the class, and our accreditation agency stipulates the university must maintain oversight of all courses taught.

Furthermore, in a detailed letter to Board of Trustees Chair Haywood Cochrane, Chancellor Folt noted that the crux of this matter from the outset was the right and responsibility of College of Arts & Sciences Dean Kevin Guskiewicz to review course offerings, especially given tight budget constraints, against the College’s strategic curricular needs. In the case of the History Department, it was the need to teach honors courses in which students were already enrolled.

The University’s Board of Trustees thoroughly reviewed the case, concurred with Chancellor Folt and Provost Blouin and denied Professor Smith’s appeal. There is no evidence to suggest any undue pressure, harassment or influence was exerted on anyone regarding the scheduling or teaching of History 383, which has been taught three times by Professor Smith in less than two years.

This case is not about academic freedom. Read the letters: https://uncnews.unc.edu/2018/05/04/university-releases-documents-related-to-faculty-grievance/.

Joel Curran is vice chancellor of communications at UNC-Chapel Hill.