What does it take to be named to the 27-member UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions?
Political clout: That explains Republicans Phil Berger and Thom Tillis, among the most powerful people in the Legislature. Business and financial connections: That explains Lew Ebert, president of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce and Robert Ingram, retired executive at GlaxoSmithKline. Big donors: That explains Fred Eshelman, who gave $35 million to the UNC pharmacy school that bears his name.
But there are reasons to be worried about the composition of the committee, whose membership UNC President Tom Ross announced last week. The committee charged with recommending the course for the 17-campus system through 2018—its academic standards, financial planning and overarching mission—includes some of the most powerful Republican operatives in North Carolina politics.
We should be concerned about the committee’s direction not because of its members’ party affiliation—Democrats fill out the panel’s ranks, too—but because of the extent of some of the conservative members’ activism.
Committee members and millionaires Art Pope and Eshelman are not just businessmen, but also political activists who have contributed to arch-conservative groups with an aggressive agenda. By contrast, there is arguably not a Democratic equivalent, in terms of political power or pocketbook, on the committee.
Exhibit A is Pope, the CEO of Variety Wholesalers, a chain of discount stores. As the Indy and the Institute for Southern Studies reported last year, the Pope empire spans across ultra-conservative foundations, think tanks, institutes, media outlets and political campaigns. You can credit, in part, Pope and his significant largesse for ushering in the Republican-majority General Assembly, and for the placement of former staffers of Pope-backed groups in key legislative advisory positions.
Ironically, Pope supports charter schools—raising the cap on them is among his favorite causes. His think tanks have called for deep budget cuts to the UNC system. And yet he sits now on a committee that is setting the moral and fiscal compass of the UNC system.
The Pope Foundation has donated to UNC, giving $3 million to expand its Academic Center for Student Athletes (how’s that working out?). To UNC’s credit, it did rebuff Pope’s offer of a multimillion-dollar grant from the family foundation to expand the university’s offerings in Western studies.
Update: A reader pointed out that UNC faculty and students organized and fought for months to defeat the proposal; they, not the administration, were largely responsible for UNC's rejection of Pope's offer.
The N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, funded by the Pope Foundation, offered $600,000 to another UNC system institution, N.C. Central University, startup money for a constitutional law institute. When NCCU didn’t immediately accept—there was consternation among the law faculty about the possible strings attached to such a proposal—the NCICL withdrew the offer.
"Light my faucet"
"The pun also rises"
Headline writing is an art—a lost art, thanks to Search Engine Optimization and the Internet—but those of us still living in the print world know that crafting a compelling "head" (or "hed," in journo shorthand) can be tougher than polishing 1,000 words of prose.
At the Indy, the section editors and I generally write the headlines, although occasionally a writer will come up with a pithy, punchy one.
"Light my faucet" introduced a story about the environmental dangers of fracking; and how could a story about the pun championships carry a headline other than "The pun also rises"?
We love puns, or I do, anyway—and pop culture references, even the slightly obscure. "We'll melt with you," which was written for a piece about climate change, refers to a song by Modern English. But it gets the point across even if you don't know the song.
The headline on the cover is often different from that on the inside because 1) on the front we have to grab readers' attention more quickly, and 2) there is less contextual information—other photos, boxes, charts to help the reader understand the article—than on the story page.
The web heads are recast for Search Engine Optimization, the enemy of all headline creativity. We have to put certain keywords in the headlines to increase the chances that readers will find the stories in their online searches—or be enticed by the word choice. This is why you see so many sensationalistic headlines online. (Hey Durhamites, wouldn't you click on a story titled, "Bill Bell's baby bump?")
That is also why online "Light my faucet" became "Despite the dangers of fracking, North Carolina lawmakers want to legalize it" and "The pun also rises" transformed into "The first Durham Pun Championship thrills—and disgusts—the crowd."
Sometimes I think of a headline and wish I had a story to go with it. Thus, at a different paper I wrote a food piece with the headline, "The age of asparagus." Because I could.