UNC student behind 9/11 course controversy connected to Art Pope think tank that aims to slash non-Western classes
Alec Dent, an incoming freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, made headlines recently for an article he wrote for the conservative website The College Fix in which he claimed the school was offering a seminar titled "The Literature of 9/11" that "sympathizes with terrorists" and "paints [the] U.S. as imperialistic." Dent apparently did not take the course or read the books but appears to have based his opinion on Amazon book descriptions for a limited selection of its readings.
He came under criticism from fellow students who took the course. One of them was Alec Dragelin, who left this comment at Dent's story:
I am a conservative through and through but having actually taken this class, I could not disagree more on what you are saying. This article is nothing but gossip about a great course taught by an amazing professor. It is entirely untrue to claim that this course presents America as imperialist. Additionally, through most of the semester and even in my final paper I actively disagreed with some of Neel's opinions. He in turn welcomed my arguments. As such, this course was amazingly valuable because it challenged my opinions and allowed me to explore what I thought I knew in a deeper way. Which is exactly what education should do.
So who is Alec Dent? According to his bio at The College Fix, he is an aspiring journalist who writes for the Carolina Review, a conservative publication at UNC, and he is a member of the UNC College Republicans, according to the group's Facebook page. He also has ties to the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh that was founded by conservative mega-donor, former state budget director, and discount retail store magnate Art Pope and primarily funded by his family foundation. Anthony Dent, Alec's older brother, also went to UNC-Chapel Hill, was chairman of the UNC College Republicans, and wrote for the Pope Center and other conservative outlets.
The younger Dent penned a blog post for the Pope Center back in July titled "Freshman orientation: conform or be cast out" about an interactive theater experience that addressed diversity and inclusivity. He describes the skit's topics – racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism – as "cardinal sin(s) of the liberal perspective" and takes a potshot at affirmative action while portraying white men as victims:
One of my fellow students stood up and questioned how affirmative action is not inherently discriminatory. This student was a white male, and he shared his view (in an allegedly open forum) that it seemed wrong for race and gender to be a factor in college acceptance. What would it mean if, after all his hard work, he missed an opportunity because he was a white male?
His question was beyond the pale. The room gave a collective gasp and started murmuring darkly. The event leaders swiftly shut down the offending student's line of questioning, evasively answering that affirmative action was very "loose" and the quotas weren't stringent.
The incident with the student who questioned affirmative action revealed an unspoken campus rule that we never discussed: not everybody has the ability to say when he or she is offended or upset without fear of reprisal, social or otherwise.
The Pope Center shares Dent's commitment to upholding the centrality of the white male perspective in the academy, having advocated against affirmative action and women's studies programs.
It has also called on UNC-Chapel Hill to pare down the courses that meet the school's general education requirements by 75 percent, "eliminating courses based on limited time periods and geographical regions" and reducing the number of foreign language courses. Most of the courses that the Pope Center would exclude from the program address non-white, non-male, and/or foreign subject matter; they include "Defining Blackness," "Music of Africa," "The Place of Asian Americans in Southern Literature," "The Ethnohistory of Native American Women," and "Introduction to Iranian Cinema."
Continuing its campaign against diverse course offerings, the Pope Center's latest paper warns of "dogmatic philosophies of multiculturalism, postmodernism, and statism" and recommends privately funded academic centers to "renew" higher education with "traditional attitudes towards Western civilization."
Alex is an investigative journalist based in Brooklyn, New York, and a reporter for the money-in-politics website Sludge. He was on staff at the Institute for Southern Studies from 2014 to 2016. Additional stories of Alex's have appeared in the International Business Times, The Nation and Vice.com.