Art Pope and the future of education in North Carolina

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Members of NC Student Power parlay about Pope. The bus behind them came to Raleigh courtesy of Patriot Majority, a progressive, anti-Koch Brothers group.
  • photo by Bob Geary
  • Members of NC Student Power parlay about Pope. The bus behind them came to Raleigh courtesy of Patriot Majority, a progressive, anti-Koch Brothers group.

First off, I want to 'fess up for that headline. I wrote something the other day and pitched it on Facebook with the word denouement in the header. This prompted a friend (she writes for the attention-grabbing Huffington Post) to remind me that words like denouement are not how you cause readers to click on your stuff.

That said, yesterday I dropped in at the Doubletree Hotel to hear Art Pope's remarks at a Civitas Institute luncheon. $15 at the door, which I was prepared to pay, though I was also ready to skip the lunch in my role as the hungry reporter.

But alas, I was turned away.

Press? Yes, apparently there were reporters inside. But did you RSVP? No, I didn't.

It's a private event, I was informed. So I left.

Which is why I cannot tell you what Pope, wealthy financier of right-wing Republicans, said about the future of education or even if he discussed education at all. I do know that Pope has spent many millions on "research" by his various organs (Civitas, John Locke, AFP-NC) into the failings of public education and the university system in North Carolina. I know he's a member of the new advisory committee on the future of UNC. (Yes, we just had an advisory commission.)

I also know that when Pope arrived at the Doubletree (before I did), he was greeted by some two dozen protesters, most of them members of a new group called the N.C. Student Power Union — NCSPU.

What's NCSPU stand for?

We want UNC System leadership that meets the needs of our diverse communities, respects and encourages meaningful input from students, workers, faculty, and community members and stays committed to accessible and affordable public education.

Pope parried briefly with members of the group, presenting himself as a humble servant of the people and staunch supporter of public education, misunderstood by his critics, etc. etc. The exchange went nowhere, and Pope said he needed to get inside, but he'd come out again when the lunch ended to answer any questions they might have.

The exchange can be seen in a video posted to OccupyNCSU's Facebook page (here's a direct link to the video — Pope makes his appearance after the 18:00 mark).

Anyway, I waited with the students, but Pope didn't return. When the lunch ended, he exited by a side door and drove away, according to a student who'd stationed himself in the parking lot.

***

N.C. Student Power makes a basic point: Higher education should be available to all qualified students in North Carolina regardless of income. More and more, it isn't.

And having Art Pope on a UNC advisory committee, the group believes, is very unlikely to improve the situation — what Pope stands for would make things worse.

So Point No. 2 on the NCSPU petition, copied below, is that Pope should get off the committee.

They take the reasonable position that students, faculty and campus workers should be consulted about how universities can do better, and not just rich old guys who haven't seen the inside of a college classroom since before the advent of the computer.

I was interested, listening to the students, that some of what they had to say was remarkably similar to what the Pope "research" says — that the UNC system suffers from administrative bloat, that campus and system officials are overpaid, that money is wasted on dazzling dorms and sports facilities, and meanwhile the education that students receive is cut and cut and the tuitions they're charged go up and up.

Pope's gangs, too, can spot the bloat. But rather than concluding that the bloat must go, but the quality of education must be protected and improved, Pope's groups use horror stories about the bloat as an excuse to slash education spending across the board. But guess what? Those dazzling sports facilities and overpaid administrators live on, and it's the students who suffer.

And that's no accident.

It's the same phenomenon that allows rich Republicans to tell us how bad the economy is, and how little progress the Obama Administration has made in turning it around, while at the same time they do everything they can to protect Wall Street and all the people and policies which brought us to the brink of economic collapse — policies, by the way, which continue to make the rich richer.

They're good at blaming the victims, you have to give them that.

***

Here's the NCSPU petition as it was delivered to the advisory committee this week —

Greetings,

As students of the UNC school system, we deliver this letter with deep concern for the future of our University. In the past 10 years, average tuition at UNC System schools has more than doubled, student-to-professor ratios have risen, and entire academic programs have been scaled back or eliminated. The 25% minimum portion of tuition revenues set aside to fund need-based financial aid has been removed. Without financial aid, many working-class students cannot attend this University. In addition to these pressing struggles, The UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions that was recently established to map out the next five years of the UNC system lacks meaningful representation of students, workers, and faculty. As integral members of this University community, we should have a say in the future of our schools.

Because we believe our public education is on the line, because we want a University that welcomes and supports future generations of North Carolinians, regardless of their socio-economic status, and because we want to uplift the voices of those who make our education possible, we are coming together to take a stand. The North Carolina Student Power Union is building a movement to transform the current system into one where our universities are democratic institutions run by those who make them work. We are students, workers, faculty, and community members all across the state mobilizing to ensure that universities within the UNC System become accessible to all North Carolinians - particularly to working-class students and students of color.

1. We demand a voice in the decision-making processes that affect us.

-We ask the BOG to reconsider the process in which the Advisory Committee will be creating the 5-year plan. We ask they follow the model that UNC Tomorrow had, taking a year to get input from the people around North Carolina in Town Hall meetings.

- That all meetings convened at Board of Governors and the Advisory Committee contain a 2 hour public forum open to everyone in the University community.

-That these meetings be held in different areas of the state so that a majority of North Carolina students have an opportunity to access to them, and all convergences of the Advisory Committee abide by open meeting laws.

2. We demand that Art Pope be removed from the Advisory Committee and that a fully representative committee free of private/corporate interests with meaningful student, worker, and community leadership is created.

-Of the 27 members of the UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions, only six are women and only 3 are people of color, this does not adequately reflect the diverse demographics of our schools and state.

-The Committee is packed with corporate leaders like Art Pope, CEO and Board Chairman of Variety Wholesalers Inc. Pope has notably funded a variety of regressive initiatives including the re-segregation of Wake County public schools. Through his known John Pope Foundation, he has a proven track record of working to privatize education.

3. We demand that the state of NC lives up to its constitutional promise to maintain education as “as free as practicable.”

- The Board of Governors must reinstate the 25% minimum of tuition revenues UNC System Schools must set aside to fund need-based financial aid.

We ask that you support us in these demands that will be a step in protecting the accessibility that makes public education in North Carolina great. Thank you again and we look forward to hearing from you.


Click on this link to sign it.

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