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Mar 7, 2005 8:54 am

Latest from UNC

Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed has the latest on the UNC/Pope Center grant controversy, with two new items that cast further doubt on the Group of 71's motives. The current president of the faculty senate and the former dean of the UNC Law School, Judith Wegner, termed the negotiations around the grant"pretty standard stuff," adding that she has"no reason to believe that there is anything nefarious going on." Wegner's comments are echoed by a public letter from the dean of arts and sciences, Bernadette Gray-Little.

These remarks call into question a central claim of the Group of 71, namely that the University has failed to exercise due diligence in protecting academic freedom while soliciting the grant.

Second, the Group of 71 continues to rely on some of its most extreme members, notably Sue Estroff and Don Nononi, to make its public case. After repeating his process argument, Nononi, an anthropology professor, informed Jaschik that UNC already has a sufficient number of courses in European history and Western Civ, and therefore doesn't need the Pope Center grant."It's just that the courses that do emphasize diversity, or the sometimes oppressive past histories of American expansion, or colonialism -- these courses are distressing to the white bread form of history that the right wing is most comfortable with." Perhaps so. But as the Pope grant is calling for adding, not deleting, courses from the curriculum, it's hard to see the merit in Nonini's argument, unless he believes that if more Western Civ classes are offered, students will choose them rather than the kind of classes he would prefer to see UNC undergraduates take.

The president of the Pope Center, James Arthur Pope, dismissed the criticism, scoffing,"If a left-wing faculty member wants to get a left-wing foundation to support more diversity courses or more 'ism' courses, they are welcome to do that. Why can't we give money for Western civilization?" His remark was not phrased in a particularly politic way, but it's tough to argue with his basic point.

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Jeff Vanke - 3/8/2005

It's a pretty big deal here. It will make the legislature more hostile to funding UNC, in a year when we have an(other) unresolved ten-figure, 10+% budget deficit. If it weren't for widespread UNC-patriotism, inspired largely by sports and fraternity glories, UNC would be in much bigger trouble.

(The summer first-year reading program not only used the controversial book highlighting the beneficent sides of the Koran; the year before or after that, it featured "Nickle-and-Dimed" arriving in matriculants' mailboxes across the state.)

(Hear that KC? CUNY needs to stop losing city basketball stars to southern schools.)

When tenured faculty, in constitutional control of the curriculum, oppose outside funding of something relatively anodyne at worst (from their own perspective), it's clear that they aren't looking for oversight -- they want rejection of the money.

We are not going to see some eureka moment where these faculty suddenly say, "Cool, sounds great, let's take the Pope money, then." At least some of them will always oppose it, is my not very bold prediction.

Robert KC Johnson - 3/7/2005

Hadn't seen it--thanks for the tip. I'm asking around now to see if I can find more about it beyond what was covered on the blog--

Robert KC Johnson - 3/7/2005

I'd say 71 professors signing a lengthy public letter condemning what the president of the faculty senate has herself termed a somewhat routine curricular grant is worthy of notice.

Grant W Jones - 3/7/2005


Are you going to be commenting on the Middle East and Academic Integrity Conference just held at Columbia?

Grant Jones

Sherman Jay Dorn - 3/7/2005

From the journalistic reports (at best 70-80 percent accurate), it appears that there has been sufficient care to make sure a donor did not interfere with internal approval processes for the proposed minor, which apparently went through at least some public process on campus (though I don't know what it is supposed to be at UNC).

On the other hand, I think you're jumping to conclusions about the (supposedly monolithic) motives of the faculty petitioners. First, you're relying on a reporter's quoting a source accurately and in context. More broadly, the occasional question about process on campus is common enough on a functional campus. "This doesn't look right." "Did you see this bit?" "Oh." "Better?" "Yeah." So faculty are concerned? That makes the administration be a little more careful about communication in the future. Big deal.

Robert KC Johnson - 3/7/2005

I think the Wegner quote is also the strongest we've seen that there would be no ideological direction in the curriculum, which clearly the University would need to have firmly in place before proceeding. But this is what struck me as odd about this story from the start: the UNC administration certainly couldn't be construed as a "conservative" administration, and it seems unlikely that they'd turn over their curriculum to the Pope people.

Agree that from a university's standpoint you'd probably have to do more with Pope than with an organization that regularly makes curricular grants, however.

Louis N Proyect - 3/7/2005
Inside Higher Education, March 7, 2005
A New Red Scare

Members of the College Republicans group at Santa Rosa Junior College had had enough. They were fed up, they said, with talking among themselves about various professors who, by expressing unvarnished liberal views as fact, made the students feel uncomfortable expressing their opposing views in class.

"What are you supposed to think when your teacher stands in front of the class and talks about "what idiots all the people are who voted in the current administration?" says Molly McPherson, a second-year politics major and president of the Republican club. "That kind of thing doesn't lead to the exploration of ideas, and it doesn't make you think that your views are welcome or would be worth an A grade."

So when one of the students came across language in California's Education Code prohibiting instructors from teaching communism "with the intent to indoctrinate or to inculcate" students with that doctrine, the students got an idea.

"Why inculcate us with any political ideology? Do I pay them to teach me what to think?" McPherson says. "I don't think so. I want them to teach me how to think and the facts to think with. They can teach whatever they want, but I as student have a right to hear both sides of an issue."

To try to make their point, the students put the language from the education code on a flyer and affixed a red star to the top, signing it from "Anonymous Students." A week ago Friday, they taped the flyers to the office doors of about 10 professors about whom McPherson says students had complained about imposing their political views in the classroom.

The fallout was swift and powerful. The professors who received the flyers objected that they were being personally attacked and threatened by the reference to the McCarthy-era remnant of the state code, which aimed to prevent the teaching of Communism aimed at "undermining patriotism for, and the belief in, the government of the United States and of this state."

At a news conference hastily arranged by some of the professors, McPherson and another member of the College Republicans showed up to acknowledge having posted the flyers. On Monday, Santa Rosa administrators circulated an e-mail that defended academic freedom but also said professors were responsible for "acknowledging the existence of, and showing respect for, opposing opinions" and "making clear what is personal opinion and what is considered general knowledge." McPherson and other students responsible for the postings faced a barrage of criticism at a raucous meeting of the college's Academic Senate on Wednesday.

In an interview, McPherson acknowledged that her use of the red stars and the "anonymous" nature of the document were "over the top," and that she underestimated the extent to which the faculty members, many of whom were "in the McCarthy generation," would be "afraid that they would come under criticism for their views."

Rather than implying a threat, she says, "the goal was to promote a discussion. We weren't trying to say they were communists. We were trying to get them to think about what this code says about" the climate in their classrooms.

But professors were not quick to forgive the students' use of McCarthy-era imagery. "Unnamed students and unspecified complaints -- what does this sound like to you?" says Marco Giordano, an English professor who was not on the receiving end of a red star. "This was an attack and an innuendo and a slander on them, not the opening of a discussion. If you want to open a dialogue, you go to the professor's office, or the department chairman or the dean. Not one of these professors has a student complaint standing against them." (Administrators at the college could not be reached over the weekend to confirm that fact or to comment generally on the controversy.)

Giordano says that when he teaches, he provides facts and inferences of the facts in the classroom, and keeps his political opinions to himself. But academic freedom gives his colleagues the right to do that if they want, he says.

"It isn't a question of just balancing ideas in the classroom," he says. Academic freedom applies institution-wide. Consider the books in our library. We should have one by the monarchist and one by the Communist, but the monarchist doesn't have to give equal time to the Communist, and vice versa. I don't believe students should feel intimidated out of expressing their political opinions, but neither should professors."

McPherson says she hopes the faculty will agree to an open forum to discuss these issues in the coming weeks.

It also seems clear, though, that the discussion will move beyond the campus. She said she plans to try to build student support for legislation introduced in the California legislature -- modeled on David Horowitz's Student Bill of Rights -- that would mandate, among other things, that colleges ensure that their faculty members present all viewpoints in their courses.

— Doug Lederman

Timothy James Burke - 3/7/2005

You beat me by about ten minutes on this story. After reading Jaschik's piece, I was going to write a short update myself. I still think it's perfectly fair for the faculty at UNC to ask for due diligence--and I don't think that the petiionary letter asserts that the administration has failed at that yet, just that it needs to take safeguards to avoid failing at it. I think that's a fair concern given the Pope Foundation's previous hostility to UNC and to the current state of higher education generally. That differentiates Pope from Mellon, Ford, Rockefeller, etc., which do not have that kind of relationship to academia.

Still, at the same time, if I were writing the letter, I'd also *welcome* a previous critic trying to do something constructive and contributory, as long as due diligence was ensured along the way.

But ok. The Nonini quote is where I think your expressed critique of Nonini at least, and possibly some of the rest of the Group of 71, draws some blood. I think I'm going to go ahead on post on this point myself, after reworking the entry a little. The upshot is that this represents a curiously contradictory position on a university curriculum. You can take the position that more is not better ONLY if you've consistently taken a position that favors the tight restriction of curricular offerings to some kind of core or canon. Faculty at St. John's College in Annapolis could rightly be critical of any foundation grant for curricular expansion if that expansion contradicted the programmatic constraints they put on their program of education as it stands. UNC, like the vast majority of research universities, doesn't have anything like that in place. So in this context, more has to be better, and what we're seeing here to some extent is fear of the marketplace of ideas.