Letter to Administration

August 24, 2011

Dear Dean Gil and Associate Dean Leloudis,

In the past few days we have been asked by the media, other students, and interested parents:  what do we hope to achieve?  With the increased interest in our cause, we thought it was time to lay out what we hope will come of our efforts.  We are advocating for the following:

  1. That the University will find the resources to restore Elements to its two-per-semester offerings.  This means paying Dr. Goldberg to teach 4 courses per year in the Elements series.
  2. That the University will make good on its promise in 2008 — namely, to fund the course for as long as Dr. Goldberg is able to teach it — by making a pledge to the Elements Alumni Board that the course will be secure going forward.
  3. That the University will allow Dr. Goldberg to teach up to two electives per year, and compensate him accordingly (these electives are almost always “Love and Friendship” and “Shakespeare’s Politics,” and they are offered based on student request).
  4. That the University will, if ever there are extenuating financial circumstances, allow Dr. Goldberg to teach gratis whenever there are interested students who want to enroll in his courses.

We think that these are very reasonable things to seek, for the following reasons:

  • Dr. Goldberg has had an extraordinary impact on students over the past 20 years — we know of no other instructor with this scale of impact
  • He has won 3 teaching awards in the past 10 years, a rare achievement
  • Many of his students have brought honor to the University (Rhodes and Marshall Scholars, student leadership roles, etc)
  • He has personally mentored many of UNC’s most successful graduates, writing countless letters of recommendation
  • His courses serve as a recruiting tool for Morehead-Cain and Robertson Scholars
  • He provides a unique educational experience that is not otherwise available within the University curriculum
  • He contributes to the intellectual climate and spirit of inquiry among students at-large, without restriction to a sub-section of the student population
  • He facilitates the formation of lasting friendships, a community of inquirers seeking earnestly to dialogue with one another about what is worthwhile… and these friendships increase alumni affection for UNC
  • He encourages humility and intellectual honesty by relentlessly insisting that students articulate and defend what they believe
  • We are quick to acknowledge that that budget cuts have forced painful prioritization exercises onto various departments and programs within the University, and we do not wish to downplay how difficult it is to make cuts when everything the College does is valuable and worthwhile.  However, we urge the University to recognize that its essential function is to facilitate relationships between students and professors that involve learning and development; if the University does not enable and support extraordinary learning experiences to the best of its ability, then it is losing sight of its essential mission.  In the testimony of countless alumni, the most outstanding learning experience they had at UNC occurred during Goldberg’s courses, so we think it is short-sighted to pull the plug on even half of these courses.

A petition along the lines of the above has been signed by ~150 supporters, which is an exceptional level of concern for something as mundane as a course offering.  Since the website was launched two weeks ago, it has received nearly 2000 page views; it gets ~100 unique visitors per day, where 1/3 of these are returning visitors checking for updates.  In short, there are a lot of people watching what happens, and the public attention will only increase with the media coverage later this week.  These 150 alumni are respectfully requesting that you revisit your earlier decision and take action to restore these courses.

Budget decisions are ultimately about priorities, and we are open to having a discussion about the priorities of the Honors Program and the College of Arts & Sciences.  It has been extremely difficult for alumni to understand cutting courses that are so clearly worth the money — so much so, that alumni have come forward with offers to help financially support the continuation of Elements in its current form.  While we recognize that donors can never place conditions on the employment decisions of a university, we are aware of other cases in which the College has wanted to sponsor a program and has sought outside support specifically for that program.  If the College is ready to stand behind the Elements series for as long as Goldberg can offer it, then we are confident that alumni would be willing to contribute to that cause.  This is the depth and strength of alumni commitment to keeping the courses intact.

Our hope is that UNC will recognize the enormous benefits generated by Goldberg’s classes, and seek to honor and express appreciation for him by paying him a fair wage and allowing him to teach as much and as long as he is able.  In order to convey to you more personally what the courses achieve, we have been looking for ways to share with you how we have been affected.  Beginning Wednesday, August 24th, you will receive gifts from concerned alumni — gifts in the form of books that have affected us through Goldberg’s course.  At the end of the day, what has touched us and stayed with us many years later are the texts themselves, and we hope they will touch you as well.

We very much appreciate your gracious attention and care for the future educational opportunities of UNC students.

Most sincerely,

Elements Alumni Board

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