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The Program for Public Discourse's seed money donor was the Dowd Foundation, director said

<p>The Program for Civic Virtue and Civil Discourse, approved by Terry Rhodes, the interim dean for the College of Arts &amp; Sciences, has generated controversy among faculty as it moves through its planning phases. Photo courtesy of UNC.&nbsp;</p>
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The Program for Civic Virtue and Civil Discourse, approved by Terry Rhodes, the interim dean for the College of Arts & Sciences, has generated controversy among faculty as it moves through its planning phases. Photo courtesy of UNC. 

The Program for Public Discourse Director Chris Clemens revealed in an email that the program’s largest donor is the Dowd Foundation. 

Clemens confirmed that the Dowd Foundation, based in Charlotte and headed by 1955 UNC alumnus Edward H. Hardison, is the source of the seed money for the program. 

The new program has been accused of having a conservative political bend and lack of transparency for its funding. Some faculty members believe that the major donations may have come from foundations aiming to push conservative agendas. 

On June 7, Michael Palm, president of the UNC chapter of the American Association of University Professors, Jay Smith, chapter vice president, and Karen Booth, the chapter secretary-treasurer, sent an email to Provost Robert Blouin to identify the donors for the program. The same day, Clemens responded and revealed the donor.

“I believe the largest donation is from the Dowd Foundation, and I think we are currently pursuing the Park Foundation,” Clemens said in the email. 

The Park Foundation has made large donations to the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, but Clemens said he is not aware of any donations by it to the Program for Public Discourse. 

Clemens said he has not repeated the name of the donor out of respect for the Dowd Foundation. According to the FAQ page on the Public Discourse Program, the University will not disclose the name of a donor if they wish to remain anonymous. The Program also reiterated its commitment to academic freedom. 

“It’s been frustrating for me,” Clemens said. “I sent an email to be transparent for members of AAUP, and they’ve been pretending not to know this to create a narrative.”

On Friday’s Faculty Council meeting, Clemens said that anyone who wanted to find out the name of the donor could, as long as they looked through the public records emails Smith requested. Clemens admitted he was indiscreet.

“I will admit to my fallibility there and say mea culpa,” Clemens said at the meeting. “I am not always sure what I’m supposed to say.”

Palm said the identity of the donor is not his main concern with the program. 

Rather, it's the presence of Board of Governors and Board of Trustees members, the director of Princeton University's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Robert George, and the director of the School of Civic & Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University, Paul Carrese, on the advisory board.

“Rather than looking at the donor, if they wanted to gain or regain the trust of broader UNC faculty, they would be much better served by requesting that the members of the BOG and BOT and external advisory board members step down,” Palm said. 

Palm said that generally, having outside donors raises concerns, but it’s not uncommon for the University. The Philosophy, Politics & Economics Program received over $100,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation.

“Where the money comes from for this program is a concern because of its origins with the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees,” Palm said. 

During Friday’s Faculty Council meeting, Smith presented a resolution that would put the Program for Public Discourse on hold. The resolution said that the program should be delayed until a full public discussion is held on its structure and intentions.

“We have a good sense of at least the origins and initial impulses that are driving the program, and we are concerned by it,” Smith said at the Faculty Council meeting. 

Voting on the resolution was tabled for the following meeting.

“The Faculty Council meeting left (the resolution) until the last 15 minutes of the meeting,” Palm said. “I thought that was a travesty.”


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