Three Years in Ten Minutes: A Brief Account of the Donation Controversy at UNC


(From Catherine “Cat” Warren, Associate Professor, Department of English, NC State)


In March 2004, a proposal entitled “The Pope Program for Renewing the Western Tradition,” drawn up by administrators to be offered to the John William Pope Foundation, was presented to selected faculty. Since then, a three-year conversation has taken place at UNC regarding donations that influence the curriculum.

        From summer to fall 2004 a faculty committee, constituted by the dean and funded by a $25,000 startup grant from the Pope Foundation, devised a program called “Studies in Western Cultures.” This committee was admirably open in its work and finished its proposal in November, 2004, when it was presented by the dean in a special faculty meeting that could only be described as overwhelmingly hostile to the proposal, one of its chief concerns being that the bulk of the money would only come after the Pope Foundation had reviewed and approved the program over four years. Nonetheless, the dean forwarded it to the Pope Foundation.

        When word came in January 2005 that the proposal was being “redrafted” without the knowledge of the faculty committee, council members submitted a resolution in February 2005, asking for transparency. When there was still no word, on March 1, 2005 71 (soon to become 101) faculty members signed an open letter in the Daily Tar Heel calling on the administration to suspend the secret negotiations and establish a faculty committee to set guidelines for donor-College relations involving curricular matters.

        What followed was a public standoff between these faculty and the administration until April 2006, when Art Pope sent a letter refusing the minor, but left open the possibility of funding of parts of it.

        During fall 2005, the provost and I co-chaired a Task Force to come up with guidelines for the university’s acceptance of donations that affect the curriculum. These 18 faculty members and administrators from across the university completed a document in early January 2006 that was unanimously endorsed. We held two open meetings that month to see if any faculty or administrators had any questions or reservations about it and there were none, so the document began making its way through the dean’s council, the faculty council, and vice-chancellor’s council. As far as I know, there was not a single voice raised in opposition to any part of it, and it was officially adopted by the University.

        In March 2006, however, it came to light that the dean had submitted a secret proposal to the Pope Foundation, written by a senior associate dean and an associate professor of English, dated February 21, with a program called “Honors Foundations in Western Cultures” without the knowledge of anyone in the Honors Program or in the Classics department, even though the first semester consisted wholly of Greco-Roman works. Both Honors and Classics decried the process and disapproved of the program.

        In April 2006, a resolution was introduced at the last faculty meeting of the academic year, calling on the University to withdraw the proposal and to abide by the guidelines of the task force. Facing the prospect of a public meeting that would call into question the good faith of the administration, the Chancellor agreed to the terms of the resolution.

        Subsequently, the Pope Foundation agreed to give $2M to the football program and $300,000 to establish study abroad scholarships and a visiting lecture series, which, at the latest report, reverts to the original title of the proposal and will be called “The John W. Pope Renewing the Western Tradition Lecture Series.” In October a faculty committee to select speakers was established by the Senior Associate Dean. We await further developments on this initiative (which does not directly affect the curriculum).