Donor Backs Off Proposal for Western Civ Program

An often-controversial process that started in fall 2003, when Carolina approached a major donor about a curriculum enhancement in Western civilizations, climaxed in early April with the donor dissatisfied. The Pope family of Raleigh is not likely to give the University millions of dollars for the program unless UNC can satisfy its concerns over whether faculty who would teach the courses are truly sold on the idea.

UNC approached the Popes – who own and operate a large-scale warehousing business and have been generous and eclectic donors to the University – about funding an academic program that would refocus on Western cultures. As the curriculum has broadened over the years, traditional requirements that students concentrate on Western civ have faded; the courses still are there, but they are not structured as a cohesive area of study.

The Popes were interested in making a gift of close to $5 million.

As a faculty committee worked over the summer of 2004 to come up with a proposal that eventually would be presented to the Popes as a minor in Western civ, concern rose within the faculty on several fronts: The Pope family foundation supports the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, whose Web site regularly lampoons Carolina courses that the center considers unworthy of serious academic pursuit and also attacks individual faculty members over their teaching and research; some faculty are against a focus on Western civ in a time when UNC is trying to build study in other areas of the world; and some faculty believed the administration was not developing the proposal in the open – that fostered a suspicion that the Popes had a heavy hand in shaping the curriculum they would be funding.

Media coverage, particularly of the ongoing debate between faculty and the Pope Center, drew public attention to the issue in the late fall and early winter of the 2004-05 academic year.

The administration of the College of Arts and Sciences wholeheartedly supported the idea of a Western civ minor, as did some professors. Bernadette Gray-Little, dean of the college, addressed the faculty concern at length in a fall Faculty Council meeting, saying she was not aware of any case in which a donor was allowed to influence the content of a class or program or the selection or advancement of a faculty member.

Gray-Little also said she shares the faculty concerns about the invective on the Pope Center Web site, and she had expressed that to Art Pope ’78. Pope said that the family foundation’s activities and those of the Pope Center are separate and that he takes no active role in shaping the center’s editorial positions.

But Pope was concerned throughout the process about the criticism of the proposal by faculty members. He referred to it as loud voices of a relative few, but he said the absence of any show of enthusiastic support from the faculty weighed in his decision.

In early April, Pope said that the University hadn’t demonstrated that faculty teaching in the Western civ minor were enthusiastic and engaged in the program.

“As a donor, we have absolutely no interest in getting involved in the University’s faculty appointments,” Pope said. But, he added, he couldn’t fund the program in the absence of a demonstration of enthusiastic buy-in by the people who would be teaching it. “We have not seen that yet,” he said.

That presents a quandary for the University, Gray-Little said. Given a five-year period, after which the program would be evaluated by the donor for endowment, UNC could not commit tenured professors to it. “It would be almost irresponsible of us to engage people [faculty[ without knowing if we were going to get the [permanent] funding,” she said.

Pope said that his hang-up was with the Western civ minor and that he was ready to go ahead with donations for other components of the program – study abroad, research seminars and honors courses, and faculty fellowships and visiting scholars.

Gray-Little said UNC officials had not had time to discuss whether to work on further revisions of the proposal.

Pope said he would pursue the possibility of funding Western civ programs at N.C. State and N.C. Central universities and possibly some private schools, but that he hoped these would be in addition to, and not in lieu of, the Carolina proposal.

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