The Pope Center, which is independent from the other groups, has openly contested and criticized UNC for offering courses in women's studies, mandating a cultural diversity requirement and selecting "controversial" books for the summer reading program.
But Bernadette Gray-Little, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, told her colleagues that the Popes have not intervened in the proposal and will not be allowed to control any curricula.
"We must say 'no' to funds that want to exercise that kind of influence on courses," she said.
She explained how Art Pope and his father, John, a former member of the UNC Board of Trustees and president of the Pope Foundation, came to the University seeking to donate about $14 million.
After the Popes proposed the donation, the Office of Development began searching for a specific program to receive the funds, and faculty members decided that a Western civilization studies program would benefit the most.
A group of faculty was charged with creating a proposal for the program to send to the Pope family. The program has been proposed before, but a previous donor rejected the idea.
If the Popes accept the proposal, they will provide about $500,000 of funding each year for the next five years. An assessment of the program then will determine whether the Popes will donate an additional endowment of about $12 million.
Because the endowment has yet to be cemented, many faculty members said they fear the Popes might have the potential to influence the program.
"I have no reason to work in this University if we don't guard academic freedom," geography Professor Altha Cravey said during the protest.
Because the Pope Foundation gave the Pope Center strong support during its inception, many were uneasy of the message the University might send by accepting the foundation's money.
But Gray-Little predicted that the University always would be subject to the Pope Center's criticism, regardless of whether the Pope family funded the Western civilization program.
History Professor Judith Bennett said that she has no problem with the proposal but that if the program were funded by the Pope Foundation, she would refuse to teach courses on Western civilization.
"It is a program which I could not associate myself with," she said. "It is very personally distressing that something that I have known and loved would not be the same."
Throughout the meeting, Gray-Little underscored her message that officials will make sure that the process is honest and that the University's diversity will be upheld.
"I, as dean, will continue to assure the program has integrity."
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