Thursday, December 09, 2004

Outcry Erupts At UNC Over Proposed Western Civ Program

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hatred of the West

By Jon Sanders
December 9, 2004

The study of Western civilization, once a rite of passage for the college-educated, has taken a back burner in modern curricula. These days, trendy universities focus almost entirely on multiculturalism. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the outcry over a proposal to revive "Western Civilization" shows just how deeply the academic Left hates it.

Some background: In North Carolina, of the eleven UNC schools surveyed, just a third still require a course in Western history or Western civilization. That's according to "How Solid is the Core? A Study of General Education Requirements at 11 North Carolina Institutions," a study conducted by the National Association of Scholars and released this fall by my organization, the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. But about two thirds "require a multicultural or cultural diversity course." The study declared this finding "at best a sign of interest in non-Western cultures, but all too often an exercise in politically correct 'education.' "

Furthermore, "[n]ot one institution requires all undergraduates to take a course in United States history. "The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will have a new curriculum soon, but the Pope Center study found that whereas the previous curriculum required students to take "one course in a period of Western history before 1700," under the new curriculum students "will no longer be required to study any segment of Western history." It's a deficit the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill seeks to address. This particular college proposed bringing a Western civilization program to its campus, and it approached the John William Pope Foundation for financial support.

The subsequent outcry was so vehement that one would think the college had proposed replacing the university's beloved Old Well with a statue of George W. Bush. To defeat the proposal, campus leftists attacked the donors on the basis of their records of funding conservative causes, most specifically, my organization, which has written critically of UNC-CH. (But they say it's not critically correct: "Criticism is one thing, hostility is another," UNC-CH English professor Reid Barbour complained recently.)

The Triangle's leftist tabloid The Independent fired the opening shots in October, warning that the Pope Foundation "has an agenda that's antithetical to the principles of academic freedom and cultural diversity" and insinuating that the university's proposal would be tainted by association. Writer Barbara Solow wrote that the "critical drumbeat" from the Pope Center -- a think tank founded with seed money and support from the Pope Foundation -- "is what led many who attended last week's faculty meeting to question the implications of taking money from the Pope Center's financial backers for academic programs at UNC." She quotes sociology professor Sherryl Kleinman, who asks, "What does it say about a university if its leaders accept 'gifts' from those who support organizations that systematically attack the university's faculty and programs?"

"While several faculty members said they had little problem with the program's academic specifics, many said they couldn't stomach its existence knowing where the money came from," reported the Herald-Sun of Durham. "Most pointed to the Higher Education Policy center [i.e., the Pope Center] and its Web site. "The campus leftist listserv called for a protest, demanding in bold-faced type "Should UNC-CH Accept $12 Million from Racist, Sexist, Classist, Homophobic Donors?" The posting announced, "The donors are John and Art Pope, whose family funds the John William Pope Foundation, the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, and the John Locke Foundation. These organizations have systematically attacked and discredited many programs and professors at UNC-Chapel Hill and other universities."

UNC-CH's Graduate and Professional Student Federation joined the fray, passing a resolution against the university taking a grant from the Pope Foundation. The resolution cited work by the Pope Center as "work[ing] to create a hostile climate to academic freedom for instructors." At the time of this writing (Nov. 23), UNC-CH's Student Congress is preparing to vote on a resolution opposing the Western Civ. Proposal because of "the foundation's ties to the Pope Center, which has repeatedly criticized University academic programs and actions, and any power the foundation might gain at UNC by funding the program."

Beginning to detect a theme? Yes, the ostensible case being presented at UNC-CH against a program in Western Civilization is that the donors approached by the university also fund conservative critics of the university. Such an unthinkable act is supposedly against academic freedom -- even though the donation would expand course offerings on campus, and even though the Pope Center held a conference last month on bringing more freedom to universities (which included David Horowitz discussing the Academic Bill of Rights, a notion the academic Left here called an extreme view and using "seemingly benign suggestions" to "promote a political agenda")

Normally, leftists decry wealthy capitalists and tell them they ought to give back to the community. Here they're telling those that are doing so (not just at UNC, but elsewhere as well) that their money is tainted; that since "politics is not divorced from education," UNC-CH should not be "married to the politics of the Pope family" by accepting their grant. In effect: "Stop the hate; stop the fear; we don't want their money here."

But the Pope Foundation's money is already there. The foundation has made several donations to UNC-CH concerns, and as the Herald-Sun reported, "Matt Kupec, UNC's vice chancellor for university advancement, said he's never heard a word of complaint about the Pope family or demands they may have made in regards to their donations."Furthermore, the foundation recently funded new courses in economics and political science at nearby North Carolina State University. "We gave them a proposal, and they accepted it," N.C. State political science Prof. Andrew Taylor told the Herald-Sun. "We have the funding for five years with no strings attached. There's no control."

Could it be, then, that the real problem isn't with the donor, but with the study of Western Civilization itself? A look at criticisms of the proposal suggests that this may be the case. "Where are the students, where are the faculty, that are dying to have this?" asked political science Prof. Pamela Conover asked in a meeting over the proposal. "Students don't want it," Student Body President Matt Calabria declared at the same meeting. "UNC administrators are being seduced by the promise of a gift that will expand a program that faculty, after careful study, decided against expanding," wrote geology professor Altha Cravey. "It's clear that money, not faculty initiative or student need, is driving this process." A posting on the UNC-CH leftist listserv dismissed the idea of a Western civilization program as "history dealing solely with the disenfranchised plight of rich, white, Protestant men."

Conservative culture warriors would be unwise to dismiss this controversy. UNC-CH is, after all, one of the most prestigious public universities in the nation. The outlook for bringing a Western Civilization program here grows dim, even as Western history is phased out of the required undergraduate curriculum. This is the same university that has just recently instituted programs in "Social and Economic Justice," "Sexuality Studies" (made possible by a grant, no less), and "Latina/o Studies." Faculty who favor the Western Civ. program are frightened to speak out for obvious reasons. The inmates are running the asylum.

Jon Sanders ( is a policy analyst for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh, North Carolina

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