Jay M. Smith from the University of North Carolina has an interesting article at the WSJ about “How Sports Ate Academic Freedom.” We agree with Jay that NCAA Division I sports do pressure academic freedom but the battle to maintain academic freedom has many more fronts.
Jay is the co-author, with Mary Willingham, of the book Cheated: The UNC [University of North Carolina] Scandal, The Education Of College Athletes, and The Future Of Big-time College Sports. Based on his book Jay tells us:
As these events unfolded [an NCAA investigation and the UNC reaction], I co-authored a book that chronicled UNC’s handling of its scandal and placed the story in the context of the relationship between academics and athletics. Later, I developed a history course on big-time college sports. In that course, students learned about the conflicts of interest that had defined intercollegiate athletics from their beginning in the 19th century. They read about how the prime beneficiaries of college sports—coaches, university presidents, alumni and governing boards, the NCAA—had created a system that kept money rolling in but kept athletes always disadvantaged. They learned about the long-term origins of the systematic educational fraud that the UNC case exemplified.
The course Jay had developed did get taught once:
The course had flown under the radar of academic administrators in 2016, but when they discovered that I planned to teach it again in 2017, they intervened to suppress it.
We find it amazing that the course was taught once. Jay’s book was published in 2015 and, usually, courses are approved by curriculum committees at a variety of levels. At the university level there would be input from the relevant parties and the Athletics Department would be one. There would be no surprise is what Jay was teaching on athletics. Perhaps, this was what we call an umbrella course that can be taught a couple of times before it is approved for the catalogue.
The administrators were able to override faculty objections and remove the course. Jay concedes that (emphasis added):
Controversial courses will remain vulnerable to suppression.
Jay is right but, as is rarely true, it is more general than the example at hand. There are several areas of that cause controversies for academic freedom. Mark Perry reports that the University of California – San Diego now requires all applicants for faculty positions to submit a diversity statement:
All candidates applying for faculty appointments at UC San Diego are required to submit a personal statement on their contributions to diversity. The purpose of the statement is to identify candidates who have the professional skills, experience, and/or willingness to engage in activities that will advance our campus diversity and equity goals.
Departments and search committees should consider a candidate’s statement as part of a comprehensive and transparent evaluation of their qualifications.
The hired faculty will have academic freedom if they really meant what they said in their statement while others won’t be considered if they are honest. We wonder if Jay would appeal to them. We were thinking of applying and using an example of educating a student at a Polish university wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt [We are not making this up.] It might have been fun for us and the search committee.
Faculty have also given away their academic freedom to a variety of other folks on campus by letting them create required activities without faculty oversight. Faculty have given up academic freedom cheaply and now folks like Jay lament that it is gone. It is a major reason why universities are in such a precarious position. If you don’t think so read Instapundit and check out the recurring Higher Education Bubble post like this one:
HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE, SELF-DESTRUCTIVE IDEOLOGY EDITION: Montana State’s Faculty Senate narrowly votes down proposed economics research center to be funded by an active Charles Koch Foundation grant.
Balancing the restoration of academic freedom with the becoming a welcoming place for students, faculty, and staff on the right and center too is the challenge of the 21st century. It is going badly so far.