Pope proposal

Guest Post by Lance McCord

You'd think that when a private organization offers several million dollars to a public university, the faculty would be grateful. Not in this case. The donor is, the Pope Foundation, is behind the Pope Center for Higher Education, an offshoot of a conservative Raleigh think-tank, the John Locke Foundation. The Pope Foundation's offer has strings attached -- they want to see the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill develop a minor in Western civilization. A large faculty contingent is concerned that a political advocacy group is engaged in secret negotiations with a public university's administration to develop a curriculum with an agenda. Art Pope, son of the Pope Foundation's founder, says "[w]e're not going to let a handful of left-wing faculty stop the students from benefiting from the program."

You can download the Pope Foundation's draft curriculum proposal in PDF format at Perpwalk.net (links at the end of that post). It's an interesting read, but it leaves some important questions unanswered: is public curriculum for sale? What precisely is the need for a special curriculum focusing on the impact of Western Europe and the U.S.?

Lance McCord is a UNC law student and blogger.



First let me comment that I do not belong to any side; left, right, democrat, republican, nation or state.

I think those who are opposing this Pope program can be hypocritial. I have not heard in the past any concerns about programs funded by "left wing think tanks".

Take the African -American program and the Pope program. Can you tell me what department said each of the following sentences:

1) "The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which has a long and distinguished tradition of scholarship in those fields."

2) "The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a long and illustrious tradition of teaching courses on diverse themes"

And both "liberal" and "Conservative" programs seem to want to extend you knowledge.

1) "African and Afro American Studies seeks to extend knowledge about Africans and African Americans to the broader community. "

2) "A new Studies in Western Culture program will offer under~graduates even greater opportunities to explore the philosophical, artistic, political, scientific, religious, and historical legacies of Western traditions."

And look at the following passage from a Dean (who I agree with). He presents no otherside.


Yes, African Americans have been oppressed by western cultures for centuries but does that mean that there should be no learning about western cultures?

All these departments make themselves sound positive. And each say they are right and the other is wrong.

That is not love. And the absence of love will get us nowhere.

What might be needed is manditory classes in critical thinking so students can make up there own mind. After all, they will be facing these issues in the real world anyway. Everyone thinks they are mainstream. Argh. I know a profeesor at UNC. He makes no bones about how he tries to teach his students to become more liberal.

So if anyone can give me a logical reason for not accepting the Pope program I am open to discuss it.

More on this topic

You know, croatoan, I don't think anyone is opposed to the study of so-called western civilization. It's the idea of taking money from an organization whose stated goals and past activity are in opposition to the goals of the University. There are clearly strings attached to this money and that is a problem.

To address Lance's first questions: Is public curriculum for sale? The university cannot grow, or even stay even with current service levels, on state funding. There are already funded programs all over campus, Burch Fellows, Morehead Scholars, Johnston Center for Undergrad Excellence, etc. Individuals schools and departments offer scholarships and funding awards for faculty and students from private donors also. While I am not personally familiar with any curricular program such as the proposed minor in Western Civ that are funded from outside, I don't think it's a stretch to see that occurring (or growing) as state funding declines.

The curriculum plan you provided on your blog looks great to me from a purely academic perspective, although I'm not sold on the idea that Western Civ can be separated from the contributions of the Eastern world. I like the way it begins and ends with small survey seminars and includes travel abroad.

That said, I would be very hesitant to fund a program of this size from a single funding source, regardless of the philosophical foundations of the funding source. If faculty, travel abroad, program administrators, etc., are funded by one source and that source pulls out sometime in the future, the program dies. I hope, if the university believes in this program, that it will consider funding the elements of the program through a variety of sources rather than putting all the apples into one barrel.

Your second question, which Dan in his editorial answered with a negative, is really the heart of the issue for me. Is the program needed? If so, they have a good curricular plan and I don't see why they shouldn't fund the elements of the plan through outside donors (plural). If the faculty doesn't see the program as needed, then I would see this whole issue as one of selling out--creating a unnecessary program just to get money.

I don't buy the argument that the state cannot fund its curriculum and msut therefore rely on private funders to do so. We take a lot for granted in our expectations of the tax structure and the extent to which wealth is protected from taxation.

In the example at hand there are apparently some millions available for curricular development. Under the prevailing scenario, after taxes, those millions remain in the hands of the Popes who attempt to exert the (undemocratic) power to influence the curriculum via their foundation.

Alternatively, those millions could be paid as taxes with state government deciding how to educate its citizens through its more democratic processes.

"It's the idea of taking money from an organization whose stated goals and past activity are in opposition to the goals of the University."


What are the University's goals? Liberalism, education, how to drink the night before a test?

And does where a source is funded from deterine it's bias? Do other programs teach an unbiased view of their subject? There are strings attached to all departments, some are just thinner.

If a Western Civ class is that dangerous then they are not educating their students.

I am sorry, it is all not as clear as it seems.

As Dan said " There are none of those feminist or multicultural perspectives that stick in the craw of the Pope Center." I don't get that. How many ecomomic classes include physics in their program.

For the inclusiveness that many of my liberal friend show, and I appreciate that, I think that they often their inclusiveness is selective.

The point is that feminism (at least how we usually think of it) is a part of "western culture." I believe that multiculturalism is a western construct as well. The Popes have a very particular, and not particularly intellectually rigorous, understanding of "western." They certainly do not appear to get the fact that the act of setting foot on the UNC campus is itself an immersion in western culture.

Dan--The state *could* fund anything, but will they? Higher education isn't a cost effective operation--they've always operated at a financial loss on the assumption that the benefits of education add value to the state and to its citizens. But over the past 10+years, the % of funding going to higher ed has been shrinking (as enrollment has grown) and is predicted to continue shrinking. Look at UNC's employment opportunities--every school and private institution seems to be hiring their own development officer. It's my personal opinion that this is what's behind the whole Carolina North initiative. UNC needs to find a way of supporting itself outside of state funds.

In Colorado, all universities will become basically private institutions as of fall. Several Virginia institutions, including UVA, are also looking at not accepting state funding. Why? Because they aren't getting enough to operate on and by accepting any state funds, they are regulated. If you would like to know more about the state of higher ed and about it's funding challenges, I recommend The future of the public university in America: Beyond the crossroads by James Duderstadt and Farris Womack. Moesser had his administrative staff read this book last year.

Universities take many from private donors who stipulate what it can be used for on a regular basis. I think Western Civ. is an excellent option for a minor course of study, or for a major for that matter. Is it needed ? Hmmm...I would like to think that a broad based liberal education is fundamental to creating a new generation of authors, playwrights,and historians. Does the world really need another MBA student ? As long as they aren't requiring that women's studies or african studies be eliminated from the curriculum as a condition of the grant, I say take the money and run. Education should be about offering as many ideas as we can, not limit them based on some quaint PC principle.

So, the Pope family and their wealthy peers work the legislature to ensure that our tax code waxes regressive thereby protecting their wealth and simultaneously keeping state revenues low. Lo and behold, the state does not appear to have enough funds for its educational needs and must turn to those same private interests for funding, but only funding for those programs that suit their private agendas or that they themselves have even concocted. Not my idea of how public education ought to be funded in a democracy nor of how curriculum ought to be planned.

"Take the money and run" and the Colorado trajectory are funding approaches for a plutocracy and that is surely where we are heading. Democracy is still possible but only if the citizens demand it.


if the Pope family is working the legislature to protect their wealth, why does the pope family then offer the university a pot of money?

Please, could we please take a look at the funding of science, medical and business research at the university by corporations, military contractors, and the Department of Defense, before we beat the shit out of the humanities yet again for the sake of making a point? The Pope's offer pales in comparison to the many millions flowing into the sciences and the medical school from sources that would surprise and shock many of you.

I secretly harbor the fantasy that the classics department (particularly the Latin and Greek specialists), the history department, and the philosophy department, will take the Pope money, flaut the so-called curriculum, and set themselves up for a few more years. Believe me, hardly anyone donates money for classicists, and if you think any university is better off without a classics department, you're wrong. When I'm rich, _I_ will give money to classics departments (Greek scholars saved me, but that's a long story), but that's going to take some time.

And where are they going to find the right-wing professors to teach the right-wing curriculum? Is there a hiring component in their plan? It seems more likely that the same professors teaching the history of the slave trade, or post-colonial literature, or a survey of world philosophies, will be called on to teach virtually the same subjects, re-named, and are likely to teach them in the same ways.

But no. The humanities will fall on its sword again in the solipsistic belief that they are still the heart of the university and what happens to their curriculum is the only important thing, while the chemistry and medical professors laugh at them from their laboratory benches, flush with dirty cash and assured that every time the humanities slashes its wrists, they gain more power within the university.

As a humanities person, I'm not exactly opposed to the opposition, so to speak -- I'm just resigned to the fact that it's part of a myopia that's allowed the university to bifurcate into the money-has-no-morals haves, and the money-is-a-suspicious-thing have-nots. And if that spells the doom of the humanities in a modern research university, what exactly has been won?

Great comments Duncan!

To help get this discussion back on track (from a tangent I helped move it toward), I'd like to encourage readers to examine the open letter from UNC faculty members. As well as considering the issues raised, check out the signators. Many of these are senior scholars with decades of experience at the university and with the development of its curricula. Many of them have distinguished international reputations in their fields.

Here is my recent column from the Chapel Hill Herald addressing many of these issues:

Need to clarify stance on Pope

BY ELIN O'HARA SLAVICK Guest columnist
Chapel Hill Herald
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Final Edition
Editorial Section
Page 2

As one of 97 faculty signatories of the open letter to UNC's administrators to end negotiations with the Pope foundation, I would like to clarify a few key issues:

* We are not calling for a silencing of the Popes or of discussion. There should be a distinction made between free speech and money, contrary to the chancellor's rhetoric.

* It is not only that the Pope Foundation has aggressively attacked and disparaged UNC faculty repeatedly, but that this particular donor is attempting to shape curriculum and future developments in a certain ideological direction that is beyond conservative.

The Pope Foundation is not just generally critical of UNC Chapel Hill and its core values and principles. It specifically targets progressive faculty and causes in the most hostile and mean-spirited manner.

* The fact that the Pope Foundation and a newspaper received a copy of the "redrafted" proposal -- that did not involve the significant contributions of the original faculty committee -- before the faculty and university at large is a perfect example of the "secretive nature" of these negotiations.

Yes, as Dean Gray-Little claims, there was an open meeting to discuss the proposal but only after the proposal had been submitted to the Popes. And yes, there were discussions at Faculty Council meetings but only because several of us pushed for information.

This is how we found out the original proposal was rejected and was being redrafted. The administration did not approach the faculty at any time openly and honestly with a timeline or updated information even though we kept asking for information and expressing our concerns.

* The administration repeats its claim that there will be no influence over curriculum by this donor but there already has been influence. If the faculty proposal was rejected by the donor and then redrafted by the administration based on suggestions by the donor, including reinserting items that the faculty committee disapproved of, I would call this donor influence.

* "There have been no attempts at secrecy in either the development of the proposal or the revisions made to the proposal as part of the funding application process," Gray-Little wrote. However, the faculty committee who wrote the original proposal did not even know it had been rejected and was being redrafted until we pursued the matter in Faculty Council!

And since the date on the redrafted proposal is Feb. 3, why did the faculty only receive it March 4? How many times can this proposal be rejected and redrafted? We were all under the assumption, based on administrative rhetoric, that the original proposal would either be accepted or rejected. End of story.

Obviously not.

* I recognize the importance of and need for private donors. However, will UNC accept money from any organization to fund a duplicative, ideologically driven curriculum?

* Why has the administration ignored the demands of 97 faculty members
to form a committee to set ethical guidelines for university-donor relations and to define "western cultures"? Apparently, our voices and intellect are not as persuasive as a donor's money.

elin o'Hara slavick is a professor of art at UNC.

Elin--Lance McCord, who started this thread, posted the 2-3-05 curriculum proposal (http://lancemccord.com/files/PopeDraft.pdf). What are your objections to this proposal? I read the letter the faculty submitted to the newspaper in opposition and it sounded more like a condemnation of the funder rather than the curriculum.

I asked Elin to post her column. She said she would but did not have time to monitor the site and respond which is too bad.

As Terri points out, Lance provided the links to the basic material and also some of the key questions concerning the problems with the proposal: "is public curriculum for sale? What precisely is the need for a special curriculum focusing on the impact of Western Europe and the U.S.?"

As my own column pointed out, the proposed curriculum offers nothing new and is not, in fact, particularly special.

Dan--While I appreciate your opinion that the new curriculum doesn't offer anything new, I would really like to hear from a faculty member who was involved in designing the first draft what changes have been made that they find so offensive. Your point is that a Western Civ minor is not needed; the faculty criticism per Elin's editorial is that they weren't involved in revisions to a curriculum they designed. So while you are questioning the need for the curriculum, they are criticizing the curriculum approval process. Based on Elin's editorial, it sounds like the faculty are as distressed with their own administrators as they are over the possibility of accepting funding from Pope.

I still think Duncan has asked the right question and am waiting for someone to respond to him. Why is it OK for the university to accept money from military contractors & DOD as well as pharmaceutical corps with less than stellar records and not OK to accept the Pope funds?

Terri, if you read my posts above, you know that I don't think either are acceptable. I did not respond to Duncan because I had responded previously.

But many critics of the Pope curriculum purchase take a narrower reading. The point made is that curriculum should not be funded by a group that is busy attacking the academic integrity of the university. Should the university lend the Popes the stature of "curriculum designers" to tack on to their attacks? As it stands, their only stature is as right-wing attack dogs.

From Elin O'Hara Slavick:

i am a luddite and do not know how to respond on that site sorry.

yes, we are as upset with the process and our administartion as we are with the pope foundation. there is no need for a program in western cultures. most instituions have scrapped such programs even tough they continue to cover the material. there are plenty of classes on the books already that would count as studying western cultures. there is an implied imperialist nature to this curriculum, as if we just need to study it to celebrate it. many faculty spoke out that if it was defined, western cultures that is, as to include the study of wars, genocides and such, then fine, but it has not even been defined - one of the demands we ask of the administration. it is duplicative and ultimately a way for the popes to have influence and control over surriculum and ideological development and direction on campus.

however, the committee who drafted the origianl proposal wanted there to be a foreign language requirement which has now disappeared. they also did NOT want many of things now back in the proposal.

i was not on the committee so i do not know as many details but the point is that faculty are supposed to create and develop and run curriculum, not donors.

forgive my rushed and fragmented response. wanted to offer something. elin

For the sake of argument, let's say the University decides to reject the Pope funding. Despite what you would like to think, it's not feasible in today's political or social environment to think that UNC or any other institution of higher education can exist without private funding.

I choose to invest my money is social choice growth funds. Those funds do not investment in companies that "derive any revenues from the manufacture of alcohol or tobacco products, or from gambling; companies that derive significant revenues from producing military weapons; and electric utilities with interests in nuclear power plants." Other investments are evaluated on environmental protection, fair salaries, women/minority leaders, etc. Those are clear and reasonable criteria for decision making. I hope the university will listen to the faculty and proceed to outline similar criteria to use for the future donors. Making random decisions like 'DoD yes but Pope no' is not consistent with an environment of academic openness and freedom.

Good article in this week's Indy addresses many of these questions:

UNC faculty say Pope talks bypassed them

A lot of the comments here point to the need for public universities to accept private money if they are to stay competitive, which is almost certainly a real need. It's also true, though, that a hypothetical and well-funded fringe group shouldn't be able to shape public university curriculum to their political goals simply by offering a sum the university finds it difficult to refuse. There's a lot of conceptual space between these two ideas where a reasonable resolution might be found.

One way to accommodate both concerns (the need for private money and the need for an independent university) is the faculty curriculum committee. Outside curriculum proposals should go through the same channels as internal revisions. There's probably no way to keep mega-donors' ideas from carrying additional weight (money talks, right?), but those donors will be in the position of asking qualified educators in a field to approve a course of study. The appearance and (hopefully) the fact of the matter will be that an approved program will be academically sound and in line with the university's mission.

In this case, though, the man with the money only has to negotiate with the dean. The dean, for those not familiar with university administrations, is a political/fund-raising figure first and an educator second (or third or fourth). That's why this deal looks more like a sale of university integrity than a simple donation accompanying a curriculum proposal.

Terri, why do you say that a choice to accept DoD funding but reject Pope money would be a "random decision?" I imagine that there are plenty of differences between the two donors and the programs they fund on which a thoughtful choice can be made.

I think Lance is on the right track re: faculty committee. I read through the Pope proposal pretty thoroughly (I hope that's the latest version; I suppose that's part of the faculty's beef -- how would you know?), and I think the most potentially troubling aspect of it isn't the curriculum, which isn't much of a change. (The minor would require a student to take five courses -- a survey course, three subject-area courses _currently offered_ at the university, and one small seminar.) To me, the most troubling aspect is the hiring of a program director, who would have control over the hiring of a "distinguished scholar in residence" a "distinguished visiting professor," and, presumably, which professor's courses would be admitted into the pool of eligible subject-area courses. I see no reason that this program couldn't be administered by a faculty committee consisting of representatives of each of the departments involved, as interdisciplinary curricula are often administered. The hiring of a separate director is unnecessary, and it does leave one wondering how much the Popes really want the program to be integrated into the current Arts and Sciences offerings.

I can see why faculty might be suspicious of the separate directorship, and the separate administering of the program, and they should register their complaints about that. The curriculum itself is relatively benign; the classes themselves are mostly available at the university already.

Duncan--hiring a program director is pretty standard practice. Program directors take on responsibility for managing the funds, admissions, counseling, faculty meetings, etc. Sometimes they come from the faculty and sometimes they don't. Hiring faculty is never a program director's job--faculty are always hired by a committee. Could the faculty be concerned that standard practice wouldn't be followed in this case? Maybe, but the scenario you are describing would atract more than 70 signatures.

Lance--you asked "why do you say that a choice to accept DoD funding but reject Pope money would be a “random decision?” I said if the university were to describe their priorities in the type of funding they would accept (social choice type criteria), then their decisions wouldn't look random.


The document is pretty clear on who they want selecting the visiting profesor and the scholar in residence. From page 7:

"The Distinguished Scholar in Residence will be selected by the program director, in consultation with a faculty committee whose members teach courses in the Studies in Western Cultures minor, First Year Seminars or Honors Foundations."

"The program director, in consultation with the dean and appropriate department chairs, will select the John W. Pope Distinguished Visiting Professor."

"In consultation" (read: another committee with defined membership) is covered in both cases. If you want to see it as a conspiracy, I guess you could read "in consultation" as an option or a back door means for the Pope's to usurp faculty control. I don't read it as anything other than standard practice.

There's a very revealing letter from officials of the Pope Center in today's Chapel Hill Herald. Their language is highly inflammatory.

They ask

Is there really anything to fear from the introduction of a small number of courses that would rteach Western philosophy, history, aestetics and so on as something other than the plague on the planet?

This is highly disingenuous since they are well aware that the curriculum is already laden with many such courses.

They conclude:

For decades, the direction of the curriculum at UNC has been consistently in the direction favored by the 'progressive' faculty. They're upset over a small step the other way.

This is a clear acknowledgment that their motivation is political, to move the curriculum away from what they insist is a “progressive” direction. But to make this argument they have to insist that existing trends are themselves political.

To put it simply, the Pope crowd is uncomfortable with the fact that academia has moved out of the 19th century. Were there really women doing important things before Sally Ride? Impossible! Did the imperialism of Western civilization/culture really lead to the tragic deaths of tens of millions around the world? Unmentionable! And did the cultures that (neo-) colonialism has been eradicating from the world for the past half millennium really have worthwhile aspects? Surely not compared to the Western canon!

These people should not be making curricular decisions for the university (or "influencing" those decisions via their contributions, if you prefer).

Put me down on record as opposing funding from both the Pope Center and the DoD.
But as for the issue at hand: does anyone recall when Yale University turned down a substantial offer from the playwright Larry Kramer, focused on expanding (or starting? I don't remember) a gay studies program, on nearly identical grounds--that a university does not let its donors define the curriculum.

But I do think those who insist that the Pope Center won't actually succeed in defining the political character of the program--at least not for very long--have a point. I myself was first exposed to Marx in the Western Civ portion of Columbia University's core curriculum, introduced in 1917 to fight Bolshevism! The Popes seem remarkably naive--do they know that the bulk of radical scholarship over the last couple of decades has not been neatly sectioned off in something like African American studies departments, but is instead often about figures in the Western canon, indeed, about the construction of that canon itself (and, in evaluating the proposal, we should note the high profile of Greece, east of any definition of the West, and the absence of Islam, a religion with virtually identical roots as Christianity, and a civilization that played a crucial role in transmitting Aristotle et al to Europe...)? It would, indeed, be sweet to see some class in Western civ show up maligned on that nasty 'course of the month' feature on the Pope's website.

I stumbled on this blog, being interested in and dismayed by the decay of educational quality which I experienced as a classroom teacher. If Chapel Hill already knows everything, and has predetermined what reality is, then why does Pope want to fund anything?

Seems to me he should take his money to some place where cant is recognized and avoided. It is appalling to think so many tax dollars support this school. How will North Carolina ever move forward if it is locked in the past. This is not the cutting edge!

Before we all quickly condemn DoD
funding on UNC campus, I want to make
a few points.
In the mid 1990s, several
members of the town council proposed
a resolution that condemned that UNC should
receive such funds. It took only a few phone
calls to various research administration
offices on campus for me to find that there
was at that time, about 10 million dollars
of DoD funding flowing onto the campus
per year. It came in three forms,
each of approximately the same magnitude.

First was research grants to fund some basic research in several technical
departments, Radiology, Chemistry,
Physics and Comp Sci, if I remember correctly. Second was funding for three
ROTC programs. Finally there were
scholarships for people
who were in the service and attended
professional schools (esp dentistry, law,
and med).

Personally I don't have any problem with
this funding. We need to recognize that
the DoD has been a great help to universities across the country, and I
certainly don't think that there is an overbearing military presence at UNC.

Finally, the very internet that we are
all are now using gratis to discuss this issue was formed, not by Al Gore, but
from tha military network under the
funding organizaation DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects A
(I forget what the A stands for).

Joe--To clarify, my point wasn't that we shouldn't accept DoD funding. Rather than we should have standards for what we will/will not accept. DoD just happens to be a good example of the conflict inherent in accepting any outside funding.

For the past few years, I've struggled with the conservative shift in our society. Conservatives seem to think their way is the only way. I'd like to be a progressive in the true sense of the word and be open to ideas that don't necessarily align with mine. To me that means not automatically rejecting Pope money because it is blatantly conservative/critical of higher ed. If institutions of higher education are not open to diverse ideas then what hope is there for the larger society?

The curricular shift away from Western Civ courses back in the mid-1990s was a result of embracing multiculturalism (conservatives would say that it's a reaction against Christianity). The curriculum as planned is definitely multicultural and very flexible. It's also a minor--what's to prevent advisors from recommending abundant courses in eastern thought/religions/civilization as part of the major study?

I have enough faith in the UNC faculty and their gen ed curriculum to trust that no student is going to leave Chapel Hill without exposure to diversity in thought and practice. By refusing the Pope money, I think the university would be exhibiting a lack of openness to a way of thinking that is gaining strength in this country--a failure, in one sense, to embrace the multiculturism they are trying to protect.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has made some tremendous contributions that we all use but rarely know about, like my all time favorite military invention, the aerosol can.

Having benefited from an ROTC scholarship as an undergraduate and five years of fully-funded graduate education, I am a supporter of these programs and I applaud UNC for including such students into the mix.

I do see a slippery slope in trying to decide what is "good" money and what is "bad" money for an institution to accept. There needs to be a clear and consistent standard when money flows into the "people's" university, and especially those athletic dollars.


Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.


Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.