Edit: Administrators should heed the call to protect Goldberg’s courses

Honors program administrators plan to slash Professor Larry Goldberg’s acclaimed Elements of Politics series in half, citing state budget cuts and shifting priorities.

But don’t try telling that to the alumni and students fighting to protect the series: They say it’s essential to keep the series intact.

A petition online at www.elementsofpolitics.com already has more than 150 signatures from students of Goldberg’s, former and current, including at least five of UNC’s Rhodes Scholars from the past five years. For them, and the graduates in PhD programs and teaching roles in top universities, along with scores of others, Goldberg’s teaching was the best of UNC.

The vocal campaign to reverse the decision by Associate Dean for Honors James Leloudis has intensified in recent weeks as alumni across the country hear of the plan.

“Dr. Goldberg’s ‘Elements’ courses were life-changing classes that have forever affected the way I look at the world,” reads one representative testimonial posted online.

“I have never met a teacher who surpassed him, either in Chapel Hill or among the luminaries I encountered during my graduate studies at the University of Chicago,” reads another.

Goldberg’s courses are a mix of philosophy, history and literature, and have been funded (at about $7,500 per course) by the honors program for the past three years.

But in the face of major state budget cuts (a reduction from $504,000 to $342,000 in the annual state appropriations directed to the Honors department in the past four years), Leloudis has been looking for money everywhere, including the discretionary budget for teaching, which funds courses like Goldberg’s.

When interviewed, Leloudis was frank about plans to prioritize limited discretionary funds for new science offerings. And he argued that one “can’t demonstrate a causal relationship” between the success of some former Goldberg students and the number of Elements of Politics courses offered, unlike funding for projects that enabled science students to publish in professional journals.

Goldberg’s students disagree.

Ben Lundin, a 2007 UNC graduate and Rhodes Scholar, noted in a letter to University administrators, “Dr. Goldberg gave me a voice on the most important topics — a chorus from the canon to draw on and interpret anew. That was my education at Chapel Hill.”

Lundin and other alumni have even offered to donate funds to support the courses, seeing it as their duty to future Tar Heels.

Though the honors program has accepted millions in endowment gifts in the past three years, Leloudis doesn’t see outside private funding as the solution in this case.

He said that, per University policy, outside donors aren’t allowed to favor any particular professor over another, and is reluctant even to encourage contributions to the discretionary fund for teaching, lest it seem like donors are dictating department policy.

It remains to be seen how the chancellor and other administrators will react to the uproar.

It’s tough to imagine this response happening for more than a handful of other courses across the entire University.

Moreover, this isn’t a random group of alumni weighing in; these are some of UNC’s best and brightest.

The University has no qualms with featuring them on recruiting brochures, and seeks their support for fundraising bulletins.

It should listen carefully when they declare that the last thing the University should do is halve the course offerings of its best teacher.

Budget cuts or no budget cuts, in a University with an annual budget of $2.4 billion, finding $15,000 in discretionary funding to protect the Elements of Politics series should be a no-brainer.

But with no positive response or possibilities coming from the honors program, it’s time for the University’s leadership to step up and do the right thing.

And if you care and want your voice to be heard, let the administration know.

Thanks for reading.

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