“As soon as I got back here [to Roxbury, Conn.] from Paris I had to go down south for that wretched lecture tour in Va. and N.C. The U of Va was a drag — I felt like a pariah in that smug place, almost no one showed up for my talk! — but this was cancelled out by my turn-out at the U of N.C. — nearly a thousand students, all rapt and worshipping except for the usual phalanx of a half a dozen or maybe a dozen black folk who did their usual childish gig of trying, unsuccessfully, to embarrass me by walking out.
“Anyway, I think I’m going to transfer my state allegiance from Va. to North Carolina. The kids in Chapel Hill are really amazingly on the ball.”
–– William Styron, writing to his daughter Susanna, March 28, 1972
Although “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” Styron’s imagined memoir of the real-life leader of a Virginia slave revolt, brought accusations of racial stereotyping, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1968.
Academics falls outside my usual hodgepodge of interests, but I couldn’t help noticing — hat tip, slate.com — the 2013 World Reputation Rankings published by Times Higher Education.
According to the magazine, “The world’s largest invitation-only academic opinion survey [is intended] to provide the definitive list of the top 100 most powerful global university brands…. The table is based on nothing more than subjective judgement — but it is the considered expert judgement of senior, published academics — the people best placed to know the most about excellence in our universities.”
In 2013, UNC Chapel Hill is included among those colleges clustered between Nos. 51 and 60 — a position most colleges can only envy, of course. In 2012, however, UNC ranked No. 46 and in 2011 No. 41.
Does anyone dispute that this decline in reputation is real?… Or that it is justified?
“Did Jesse Helms ever call UNC the ‘University of Negroes and Communists’?
“That line has been attributed to the late longtime U.S. senator for many years by many sources. John Dodd, president of the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, says it is ‘a fabrication.’ ”
— From “Jesse Helms and the ‘University of Negroes and Communists’ “ by Taylor Batten in today’s Charlotte Observer
“ ‘It is evidently pleasing to many people,’ said Richard Udry, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina who studied post-blackout birth rates, ‘to fantasize that when people are trapped by some immobilizing event which deprives them of their usual activities, most will turn to copulation.’
“Udry’s  study found that the blackout babies of 1966 were…. ”
— From “Will there be a Hurricane Sandy baby boom?” by Matt Soniak at Mental Floss (Nov. 8)
Dr. Udry, whose career covered much more than blackout babies, died July 29 in Chapel Hill at age 83.
On this day in 1958: Capping an 18-year legal struggle, the Ackland Art Museum is dedicated at the University of North Carolina. As specified in his bequest, the museum’s benefactor, William Hayes Ackland, is interred within the building with a recumbent statue on his marble sarcophagus.
When he died in 1940, Ackland, a Washington lawyer, left $1,395,000 to Duke University for an art museum. The school’s trustees declined — reportedly out of the belief that the sarcophagi and recumbent statues of three Dukes in the Duke Memorial Chapel were ample. UNC and Rollins College, Ackland’s second and third choices in an earlier will, were left to wage a long court struggle over the bequest. UNC — whose lawyers were not above arguing that that Duke and UNC were “alike as two peas in a pod” — finally won out.
“Some of the clearest messages… concerning their perceived status as ornamental husband-hunters…. came from the admissions offices of leading Southern institutions like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which established a ‘Coed Quota’ of 1,000 in 1946 in order to accommodate more male veterans and announced that ‘additional student body increases in the next few years will be made by men students.’
“A policy of restricting female admissions to ‘especially well qualified’ applicants remained in force until overturned by federal law in 1972.”
— From “Remaking Dixie: The Impact of World War II on the American South” (1997), edited by Neil R. McMillen
“By the mid-1970s, Bruce Ivins had earned his doctorate and was a promising researcher at the University of North Carolina. By outward appearances, he was a charming eccentric, odd but disarming. Inside, he still smoldered with resentment, and he saw a new outlet for it.
“Several years earlier, a [University of] Cincinnati student had turned him down for a date. He had projected his anger onto the young woman’s sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma. There was a Kappa house in Chapel Hill, and Ivins cased the building. One night when it was empty, he slipped in through a bathroom window and roamed the darkened floors with a penlight.
“Upstairs, he found something that fascinated him: a glass-enclosed sheaf of documents, called a cipher, necessary for decoding the sorority’s secrets. The cipher would help him wage a personal war against Kappa Kappa Gamma into the sixth decade of his life….
“Investigators believed the poisoned envelopes [in the 2001 anthrax attacks] were deposited in a curbside mailbox in downtown Princeton, N.J. Only years later would the significance of that location become clear.
“The mailbox stood beneath the fourth-floor office of a college sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.”
— From the Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2011
Despite a wealth of circumstantial evidence pointing at Ivins as the anthrax terrorist, new questions have arisen.
“Educators are in thrall to their athletic departments because of these television riches and because they respect the political furies that can burst from a locker room. ‘There’s fear,’ [Bill] Friday told me when I visited him on the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill last fall. As we spoke, two giant construction cranes towered nearby over the university’s Kenan Stadium, working on the latest $77 million renovation….
“Friday insisted that for the networks, paying huge sums to universities was a bargain. ‘We do every little thing for them,’ he said. ‘We furnish the theater, the actors, the lights, the music, and the audience for a drama measured neatly in time slots. They bring the camera and turn it on.’ Friday, a weathered idealist at 91, laments the control universities have ceded in pursuit of this money. If television wants to broadcast football from here on a Thursday night, he said, ‘we shut down the university at 3 o’clock to accommodate the crowds.’ He longed for a campus identity more centered in an academic mission.”
— From “The Shame of College Athletics” by Taylor Branch (UNC ’68) in The Atlantic
Sorry for today’s multiple postings, but civil-rights historian Branch is making big waves in indicting the NCAA for the “unmistakable whiff of the plantation.”
— Agree or disagree, Silent Sam disputants? “We honor people for the good they do, and for their honorableness, and not for their mistakes.”
— Speaking of Sam, I’m reminded of another contentious piece of campus statuary — one that was sent into exile and stripped of two of its figures.
— Capturing Hatteras gave Union a disproportionate morale boost.
— Clingman’s last stand?
— When targeted for jihad, hope for “the only terrorist in the world ever deterred by gun-control laws.”