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An Open Letter to UNC-Chapel Hill Alumni

Our alumni association shows no interest in holding a forum on a vital university issue.

By Arch T. Allen

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February 12, 2014

Dear Fellow UNC Alumni:

Like many of you, I am concerned about the state of our beloved university. Among its many prominent problems are the alleged fraud by a former academic department chairman concerning “no-show” classes that gave academic credits to athletes and the report by an academic adviser, disputed by university officials, that some university athletes cannot read on a college level.

As distressing as those problems are, other serious ones exist. One is the general education curriculum for undergraduates.

The Pope Center for Higher Education Policy recently published a report on our university’s general education curriculum. You can access it at http://www.popecenter.org/inquiry_papers/article.html?id=2920. One of its coauthors earned her doctorate at our university, and she and her coauthor conclude that the general education requirement is an incoherent smorgasbord. Of the minimum credit hours required, equivalent to about 15 courses, students choose from approximately 4,700 courses.

Choices for this purported “core curriculum” include Introduction to Sexuality Studies, Russian Fairy Tale, Recreation and Leisure in Society, The Folk Revival: The Singing Left in Mid-20th Century America, and Bollywood Cinema. Instead of allowing such courses to satisfy the “core” requirements, the report proposes A Better Program for UNC-Chapel Hill.

I urge you to read the report. Although you may not be satisfied with all its recommendations, I think you will be dissatisfied with the current “core” curriculum.  I hope you will encourage the university to improve it. 

As chairman of the Pope Center, and as an alumnus interested in involving alumni in improving the curriculum, I wrote Doug Dibbert, president of our General Alumni Association. I proposed that the General Alumni Association sponsor, or co-sponsor with the Pope Center, a forum for alumni to hear the authors explain their report and to hear a university official, perhaps the provost, defend the current curriculum and critique the report. I also suggested that the Association’s Alumni Review publish an article on the report. Doug Dibbert dismissed my suggestions and referred me to the provost.

While I do hope to discuss a possible forum with the provost or his designee, my purpose in proposing a forum sponsored or cosponsored by the General Alumni Association was to involve alumni in learning about the general education curriculum and encouraging the university to improve it. Thus, Doug Dibbert’s dismissal of the proposal and deferral to the provost disappointed me. 

Upon further reflection, however, his action left me disenchanted with our alumni association. While it purports to be governed independently by its board of directors elected by alumni, its lack of interest in informing us about the general education curriculum suggests that, rather than being a watchdog for us, it is a mere lapdog for the university administration. We need an independent alumni association: One that is an advocate for our university, but not an apologist; one that celebrates our university’s successes, and criticizes its failures.

Those failures are not limited to academic fraud in “no show” classes or in admitting as students some athletes who are unprepared for college-level studies. They extend to failure to provide a sound general education requirement for qualified students who do show up for classes. Certainly many qualified students receive excellent educations in their majors. But many of them, like their counterparts nationally, are as characterized by Yale computer science professor David Gelernter in his recent book on higher education, America Lite. Essentially, he said this: Although intelligent and articulate, American students today learn little or no history, literature, or civics explaining our country, and upon graduation they remain mostly ignorant and unaware of the American experience and the core knowledge essential to being informed citizens.

If the General Alumni Association is not interested in addressing these problems at our university, we alumni must. I hope you will email me at ArchTAllen@popecenter.org with your comments and suggestions as to how we may encourage our university to improve the general education curriculum, and let me know what you think of a forum such as the one proposed to Doug Dibbert. And let him know too at doug_dibbert@unc.edu.

Arch T. Allen

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UNC BS ’62, JD ‘65

(Editor’s note: Arch T. Allen is chairman of the board of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.)

 


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