UNC-CH receives $3 million for athlete study center

Pope Foundation awards UNC-CH $3 million for 'showcase facility.'

Staff WriterApril 6, 2011 

Editor's note: An article Wednesday was unclear about the origin of a proposed western cultures program at UNC-Chapel Hill. The College of Arts & Sciences at UNC-CH asked the Raleigh-based John William Pope Foundation in 2004 to fund the program.

The foundation run by Wake County businessman Art Pope has given $3 million to UNC-Chapel Hill for a new academic counseling center for athletes.

The John William Pope Foundation's gift will fund the John W. Pope Student-Athlete Academic Support Center, part of the ongoing renovation of Kenan Stadium.

The foundation, which also paid for the original academic support center built in 1986, is named for John W. Pope Sr., a 1947 UNC-CH graduate and founder of Henderson-based Variety Wholesalers, which operates hundreds of low-cost retailers such as Roses, Value Mart and Super Dollar.

"My father loved Carolina and believed strongly in excellence in both academics and athletics, that each reinforced the other," Art Pope, president of the Pope Foundation, said in a news release Tuesday.

At 29,000 square feet, the new academic center at Kenan Stadium will be more than three times larger than the former space. It will serve nearly 800 athletes from 28 sports and include classrooms, computers, a writing lab, reading rooms and office space.

Athletics Director Dick Baddour calls it "a showcase facility." It is slated to open this fall when stadium renovation is complete. The $70 million project is being funded through private donations and the sale of new, premium seating.

The gift announced Tuesday is the latest in a long string of gifts Pope and his foundation have given to athletics and academics at UNC-CH. Pope also has given to arts and sciences and the business and journalism schools and has funded initiatives at N.C. State University and other universities.

Still, Pope and his foundation have long been an irritant to many on the UNC-CH faculty.

In 2005, a Pope proposal to give millions to promote the study of Western cultures was met with disdain bymany faculty members who feared it would allow Pope to influence curriculum and academic decisions.

Pope subsequently scrapped plans for that donation, opting instead to give $2.3 million largely to the university's football program for assistant coach pay raises and other uses.

The Pope family and foundation have long supported conservative causes and fund the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a frequent critic of UNC-CH and its curriculum.

Last week, members of the N.C. Association of Educators, which represents teachers, voted to boycott stores operated by Variety Wholesalers, claiming Pope profits from poor communities to fund organizations that work against the interests of poor people and public education.

Pope has helped fund conservative groups such as the Civitas Institute and the John Locke Foundation, which have taken positions contrary to those espoused by the education group.

eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2008

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