17 November 2012

Buying an education system

By Kevin Keller, Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 17:11

Art Pope is attempting to buy education and politics in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina State University Student Power coalition. Art Pope, Fayetteville native and CEO of Variety Wholesalers, has provided millions of dollars in funding for conservative politicians and educational grants throughout North Carolina.

In a true David and Goliath story, the NCSU Student Power coalition is attempting to counter Pope's influence on the education system of North Carolina and empower students to control their education.

NCSU Student Power has partnered with about 10  other public universities in North Carolina to raise awareness and empower students about educational issues in N.C.

Bryan Perlmutter, a senior in marketing, cited the recent attempt by the UNC-System Board of Governors to change the drop date for all universities in the UNC System as an example of the lack of student representation in the education system.

"This is a prime example of the prevalent and increasing irrationality in the way our education is being managed," Perlmutter said.

Wednesday evening, NCSU Student Power hosted a teach-in and community dinner to discuss the influence of Art Pope and possible student response. Chris Kromm, director of the Institute for Southern Studies in Durham, was the main speaker. The ISS was founded in the 1970s by veterans of the Civil Rights Movement and concentrates on research concerning government and corporate responsibility.

According to ISS' webpage, Pope has attempted to push a conservative agenda across the educational landscape in N.C. through a lecture series at N.C. State, which emphasized politics and economics; a grant for a Western Studies Department at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and support for N.C. Central's Law school.

"[Pope] wants colleges to honor the wishes of wealthy donors," Kromm said.

But the faculty at both schools rejected this notion, and the support for the UNC and the N.C. Central grants was withdrawn after protest from students and faculty members of both schools.

Kromm lectured on the recent North Carolina elections and the role that Art Pope played.

According to Kromm, more than 90 percent of the funding for conservative think tanks and advocacy groups comes from the Pope family foundation. Pope was also a major funder of both the 2010 Republican Party's takeover of the N.C. Legislature and 2012 republican campaigns.

Widely considered to be a smaller version of the infamous Koch Brothers, Pope is a co-director of their Americans For Prosperity political advocacy group. According to Kromm, Pope has given millions of dollars to climate change denial organizations such as the John Locke Foundation and organizations that supported the controversial North Carolina Amendment One.

Art Pope was recently appointed by the N.C. Board of Governors to the UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions. This group is tasked with planning the next five years of the UNC System. Critics wonder about his qualifications to make educational policy and the low student input to the five-year plan.

"I think that students, faculty, and staff should be involved in making major decisions about the university, not corporate CEOs," said Hannah Allison, a graduate student in social who attended the teach-in.