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UNC announced it would accept $3 million from the John W. Pope Foundation, named for Art Pope's father, to expand UNC's academic center for student athletes.

Art Pope gives $3 million to UNC 

Despite running a public school and facing fundraising goals in the millions, leaders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill haven't eagerly accepted just any largesse thrown their way.

A few years ago, the university declined a multimillion dollar grant from the family foundation of controversial Republican magnate Art Pope to expand its offerings in Western studies. Faculty feared Pope could use the grant to extend his own political agenda, or those of the conservative policy groups he has helped launch, to UNC's classrooms.

Pope appears to have found more neutral territory in funding Tar Heel sports teams. On Tuesday, UNC announced it would accept $3 million from the John W. Pope Foundation, named for Art Pope's father, to expand UNC's academic center for student athletes. The existing center will triple in size to 29,000 square feet and serve nearly 800 students with classrooms for teaching and tutoring, computer and writing labs, reading rooms and offices.

The Pope Foundation helped fund the original John W. Pope Student-Athlete Academic Support Center in 1986. John W. Pope Sr. graduated from UNC in 1947 before making his fortune through Variety Wholesalers, which owns bargain stores including Maxway and Roses in North Carolina and other southeastern states. He died in 2006.

"My father loved Carolina and believed strongly in excellence in both academics and athletics, that each reinforced the other," Art Pope said in a UNC press release.

According to the release, the Pope Foundation has also donated to the university's College of Arts and Sciences, Kenan-Flagler Business School and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The Pope Foundation ended up channeling money to UNC athletics in 2006, after that widely publicized debate over whether to accept Pope funds for the Western studies curriculum. That year, the Pope Foundation ended up offering UNC a $2 million endowment that would generate $100,000 a year the university could use to boost salaries for assistant football coaches. The foundation gave another $300,000 for undergraduate research, study-abroad programs and visiting scholars focused on Western cultures, according to a 2006 press release.

Pope has come under scrutiny by political observers, activists and the Indy and Facing South, which published an exposé of his empire last month. Subsequently, Pope appeared on television, in print and on blogs in attempts to defend his name after members of the N.C. Association of Educators voted to boycott stores owned by Variety Wholesalers. The educators' group said Pope takes money from his bargain stores in low-income communities to fund causes and organizations that work against public education and the interests of the poor.

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