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UNC academic culture criticized by Pope Center

University leaders say they are unperturbed by the recent criticisms of UNC’s general education program coming from a local nonprofit.

The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a right-leaning, Raleigh-based nonprofit that analyzes universities in North Carolina and the nation, will release a report Friday labeling UNC’s general education program as flawed and incoherent.

“Much of its design and its failure to restrict course options in any meaningful way direct students away from the skills and knowledge they are most likely to need in the future,” the report reads.

The lack of a core curriculum is just one of the Pope Center’s main criticisms of higher education institutions, said Jane Shaw, the center’s president. Shaw said the Pope Center, which has a conservative viewpoint, is also concerned with what it sees as the increasing politicization of classes and activities on college campuses.

Jay Schalin, director of policy analysis at the center, recently gave a speech on the liberal viewpoint that he feels is promoted at many universities.

He said students with liberal views are rarely challenged, conservative students often find themselves “in the fire” and students who arrive on campus without strong political beliefs find themselves adopting those liberal views.

But UNC microbiology professor Steven Bachenheimer said he doesn’t believe faculty members transmit their political beliefs to students, whether they are liberal or not.

“I think people like Jay Schalin believe that we brainwash students,” Bachenheimer said. “(He thinks) they come out as sort of zombies who can’t critically evaluate issues that face them as citizens, and I would suggest that that is bogus.”

Bachenheimer also said he doesn’t feel Schalin’s arguments are logically sound.

“(Schalin’s) writing is easy to poke holes into,” Bachenheimer said.

“He really is a master at sort of selectively interpreting facts … He sees the world in a sort of very two-dimensional, black-and-white way.”

But Schalin argued that he provides examples for his claims as well as links to other articles that reinforce the ideas in his writing.

“In just about every case, I give at least one example. So I think that I am pretty much backing up what I say,” Schalin said.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jim Dean invited Shaw to campus after reading one of the past articles the Pope Center published criticizing higher education.

“I think that if they are going to write about higher education and specifically write about UNC, I feel very confident that the more they know about us the more confidence they’ll have in what we’re doing,” Dean said.

Ferrel Guillory, a journalism professor, said the Pope Center is not the first to criticize the University for purportedly having a liberal bias.

“It isn’t a new phenomenon that the (University) finds itself criticized, particularly by political conservatives. It’s happened before and without a doubt will happen again,” he said.

Dean said he feels criticism is nothing out of the ordinary for an institution such as UNC.

“All important organizations have critics, without exception,” Dean said.

“We’re big enough to have attracted critics. And it sort of comes with the territory. There’s really no organization that has the stature of UNC that doesn’t have people who believe it should be led differently.”

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