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After Faculty Outcry, UNC Will Allow Athletics Course to Be Taught Again

Updated (9/19/2017, 8:01 p.m.) with more information about the university’s response to the claim that the course was canceled.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill the history course “Big-Time College Sports and the Rights of Athletes, 1956 to the Present,” will once again be offered, in the spring semester of 2018. Jay Smith, the professor behind the course and a prominent critic of the administration, was informed last November that the course would be canceled for the fall of 2017.

Although reasons for the cancellation remain unclear, Mr. Smith argued that university administrators wanted to censor information taught in the course, which included details of UNC’s 18-year-long athletic scandal in which players were given credit for sham classes designed to keep them eligible for competition. Mr. Smith wrote a book about the scandal with Mary Willingham, the whistle-blower in the case.

Soon after Mr. Smith was informed about the course cancellation, 45 members of the history department signed a statement calling the action a “serious infringement of freedom of inquiry.” (The administration has said the class was not canceled but rather was not offered in the fall of 2017 — a decision made by Mr. Smith’s department chair, not the administration.)

The News & Observer reported that in July 2017, Mr. Smith filed a complaint with the faculty-grievance committee arguing that the cancellation had restricted his academic freedom. Two weeks later, Mr. Smith was informed that the course would be offered in the spring of 2018. Around that time, four administrators wrote to the faculty-grievance committee asking that Mr. Smith’s case be dropped. The committee denied the request, and Mr. Smith’s grievance is still pending.

Kevin Guskiewicz, a dean who oversees the department, and Jim Dean, UNC’s previous provost, said that academic freedom “does not give individual faculty members the right to unilaterally decide what courses they will teach in a given semester or academic year.”

Still, Mr. Smith said that canceling his course was unjustifiable. He also said: “If you want to push a faculty member around about what they teach, be careful. It could come back to bite you.”

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