RALEIGH, NC– A monthly column of mine is under fire by a handful of loud leftists at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. The bunch, which includes a few professors (a very few, let it be said), are arguing that my column is acceptable grounds upon which the university’s College of Arts and Sciences must desist in their efforts to propose a program in Western Civilization that would win an outside grant worth several million dollars.
Since such a thing doesn’t make sense at all, you know it’s from Chapel Hill.
The facts in the matter are these:
1. The College is seeking to address a deficit in its course offerings by proposing a Western Civilization program, and they approached the Pope Foundation for funding it, once they finalize the proposal.
2. The Pope Foundation provides funding for conservative causes, including the John Locke Foundation and also the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, for which I write.
3. Leftist malcontents are pointing at articles by me and others in the Pope Center (the think tank) in order to accuse the Pope Foundation (the philanthropy) of being “racist, homophobic, sexist & anti-poor,” thereby trying to stop the proposed program.
4. The articles they cite the most in this feckless protest are my “Course of the Month” articles, a monthly Golden Fleece award for university courses in North Carolina that “meet at least one of the following criteria: overt political content, rabid infatuation with pop culture or sexuality, and abject silliness.”
Apart from the obvious, one of the problems in their approach has been to cherry-pick select phrases from my column to howl about without giving people their juicy context. I would prefer that attention be placed not upon the well-turned phrases, but upon a full appreciation of the courses I wrote about. I fear that in their drive-by, one-line criticism, they selling these winners short.
I acknowledge that the criteria given above don’t give the full picture of the merits of the honored courses. Most of them fit more than one category. For example, see my choice for September 2004, which particularly rankled the leftists. It was a new economics course on “The Social and Economic History of the Black Presence at UNC Chapel Hill,” which teased students with “Would you like to learn valuable research skills while being paid?” Under the headline “It really pays to take this new course,” I wrote that it “appears to be a goulash of CM favorites — academic navel-gazing, subject matter hardly tangential to the discipline the course is listed under, use of multicultural justification to ward off the previous two criticisms, plus professors tricking undergrads into doing their research for them.”
Aware of the uncertainty surrounding the merits of my selections, I conducted a review of the 45 winners since my column came to Carolina Journal in January 2001. I found they fell among several categories, often more than just one. Here are the categories, in alphabetical order, and the number of winners that fit into each: Abject silliness (5); Activism for credit (7); Intolerance, off-subject — i.e., classroom intolerance not related to the subject matter (4); Intolerance, on-subject (6); Marxism (6); Navel-gazing and identity politics (15); Pop culture and the ridiculously easy — which includes courses reliant on TVs, VCRs, magazines, etc., or student word-of-mouth as “crib” courses (16); Porn and sex (9); Trendy leftist pap (10); and “Undisciplined” — that is, subject matter not related to the academic discipline hosting the course (12).
On our web site, www.popecenter.org, you can find many examples of those — or you can find an example of each category under their listing here: www.popecenter.org/course_month/article.html?id=1462.
While you are there, please feel free to peruse the web site. Ask yourself, what on earth does this site have to do with a proposal being put together by faculty at UNC-CH’s College of Arts and Sciences? Then ask yourself if you could argue that it’s grounds for the college to turn away a grant worth several millions of dollars. Here’s an additional challenge: see if you can keep a straight face while doing so.
Jon Sanders (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a policy analyst for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh.