Editor's Note: This piece was submitted by the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in response to the Independent's coverage of the center.
Surely Toby Parcel, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at N.C. State University, had little idea of the dustup she would cause by approaching the Pope Foundation to explore funding for academic programs. In a stormy public meeting, some faculty members made it clear that they don't want their college to get any money from Pope.
Some of the invective was directed at the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, of which I am executive vice president. This organization is separate from the Pope Foundation but was also founded by the late John William Pope.
According to the Independent Weekly (Triangles, Dec. 6, "N.C. State considers Pope money"), Catherine A. Warren, director of Women's and Gender Studies at N.C. State, complained about a 2005 Pope Center study of women's studies programs in the UNC system. She called it "inane crap." Dean Parcel called the center's work "deplorable and counterproductive."
These accusations are false. Let me explain some of the history of the Pope Center.
John William Pope was a trustee of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He became frustrated by what he saw as an increasingly closed-minded and "politically correct" campus where students failed to experience the intellectual diversity that is supposed to be a hallmark of universities. Pope formed the center in 1996 to improve the quality of higher education, especially in North Carolina.
Since then, the Pope Center has issued at least 25 formal studies and many more articles, and we are proud to say that we have helped inform North Carolina citizens about their state university system. We have even brought about constructive change. In 2005 the center pointed out that speech codes on 13 campuses were unlikely to withstand judicial scrutiny—and at least one campus changed its code. Our studies comparing faculty salaries in the UNC system have provided a useful counterweight to uninformed claims about salary conditions. A Pope Center study of UNC governance proposed a change similar to one recently offered by the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research—giving the state governor a bigger role in selecting members of the board of governors.
We respect other viewpoints and believe in open discussion and constructive debate. In 2000, for example, the center considered the full higher education bond package as excessive, but acknowledged the need to repair severely deteriorated buildings. We also published in our journal, Clarion, an argument for full funding written by Marye Anne Fox, then chancellor of N.C. State. At our conferences, we have sponsored speakers with widely divergent views. This is rarely true of those hostile to us.
Perhaps one reason that Catherine Warren is so negative about the Pope Center is that a 2005 Pope Center report criticized women's studies programs at five campuses in the University of North Carolina system, including the program Warren directs. That study pointed out that the field of women's studies tends to be polemical and doctrinaire, that it is not a popular major, and that it is financed primarily by public (i.e. taxpayer) funds, with little private support. At N.C. State, only nine majors graduated in women's studies in 2004 (out of a total undergraduate population of 22,971), and the department received no private funds. (At the same time, the paper noted a few modest strengths of the N.C. State program.)
No one has rebutted the paper's points. The author of the paper, Melana Zyla Vickers, is willing to participate in a forum that discusses the merits of women's studies programs in North Carolina.
It is always painful to be the brunt of criticism, as the women's studies program was. But the citizens of North Carolina have a right to know the quality of their public universities, and the Pope Center is striving to inform them. Indeed, I hope that readers will be open-minded. If you look at our Web site, www.popecenter.org, you will see that the Pope Center provides reasoned, valid criticism of higher education in North Carolina.
Jane S. Shaw is executive vice president of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh.