UNC Re-submits Proposal On Western Civ to Pope Family

The College of Arts and Sciences has decided to continue to pursue a gift for a curriculum enhancement in Western civilization — a scaled-back version of the original.

In late 2003, the college was mindful that the Pope family of Raleigh had expressed interest in a multimillion-dollar curriculum-based gift as it began mapping out a proposal for what would be a multi-faceted Studies in Western Cultures, including a minor in the subject. The plan caught the interest of Art Pope ’78, whose family has shared its success in the wholesaling business with a number of major donations to Carolina.

But the move raised red flags in the faculty: A Web site backed by the conservative Popes has been a thorn in the side of some UNC teachers, regularly criticizing and satirizing parts of the curriculum; some faculty insist there had been no interest in beefing up Western civ prior to the proposal to the Popes; and some thought the administration conducted the negotiations in secret.

The final revision of the plan called for a $4.8 million gift. In April, Pope turned down the University’s proposal, saying UNC hadn’t demonstrated that faculty teaching in the Western civ minor were enthusiastic and engaged in the program. He said that he would pursue funding Western civ programs at other schools but that he remained open to a revised proposal from UNC.

The proposal included a provision for a five-year evaluation period, after which it would be evaluated by the donor for endowment. UNC said it could not commit tenured professors without knowing if it would get permanent funding.

In July, the college released a new 15-page draft that included first-year seminars; summer research fellowships; study abroad scholarships; and faculty fellowships, a scholar-in-residence and a visiting professorship each named for family patriarch John W. Pope ’47, Art Pope’s father. It has a price tag of just less than $4 million. But the Western civ minor was not included.

College Dean Bernadette Gray-Little explained that the items included are expansions of existing programs – that the development of a minor and a multi-course honors sequence would require faculty input that could not be done in the summer in time to get back to the Popes in a reasonable amount of time.

The proposal does mention a major in contemporary European studies and a three-course honors foundation in Western cultures, but no funding is requested. The proposal, which was expected to be ready for delivery to the Popes in late summer, says these items would be developed later.

Officials of the College of Arts and Sciences have said that almost all of the elements of a serious focus on Western civ are in the curriculum but are not cohesively organized – in other words, a student would have to do some searching to put together what would amount to a major or minor. The chair of the faculty committee that wrote the original proposal said such a focus might be valuable for a science or business major with limited time to spend on the humanities but who wanted a rounded experience.

Some faculty countered that there was no mention of Western civ in a recent major overhaul of the undergraduate curriculum scheduled to go into effect in 2006 – in other words, they said, this wasn’t an area of emphasis until the Popes appeared as an interested donor.

Art Pope said he thought the opposition was from a relatively small group of faculty and students. He said he never had been turned down as a donor.

Gray-Little was a strong supporter of the Western cultures endeavor, saying it would support the academic priorities of the College and the University while enhancing the undergraduate curriculum.

An in-depth feature about this subject appeared in the May/June 2005 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, available online to Carolina Alumni members.

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