Tar Heel Tattler - August 2006

There is a lesson in this somewhere
By Edward Martin

Call it carrying coals to Newcastle: Starting a college a stone’s throw from the Triangle — home of UNC Chapel Hill, Duke and N.C. State and several smaller schools — seems far-fetched. But a Duke professor says Founders College could open as soon as fall 2007.

Tar Heel education observers say Gary Hull and associates have a formidable task. No four-year liberal-arts college has opened in the state since at least 1972, when lawmakers created the 16-campus UNC system and gave it power to license private colleges in the state.

Hull, 49, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and teaches business ethics and values, is undaunted. In April, he and a colleague incorporated Founders College Education Inc. Both have lectured at the Irvine, Calif.-based Ayn Rand Institute, named for the author who advocated an unbridled free market.

“The purpose of the program would be to educate, not propagandize,” Hull says. “We’ll be starting with five departments — history, economics, philosophy, arts and business — teaching critical, fund-amental ideas that every person needs to know, whether they’re going to be a banker, college professor, journalist, physicist or whatever.”

Curriculum aside, launching Founders could be equivalent to the task of the mythical character Rand used in the title of her most famous novel: Atlas Shrugged. “The infrastructure and personnel would have significant costs, and that would be just the first challenge,” says Hope Williams, president of the 36-member North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities. Nevertheless, Hull expects to open with 100 students next fall. Organizers were looking at sites in Oxford, north of Durham, but also in Maine and Virginia. Could those who have extolled the virtues of unfettered capitalism be fishing for government incentives? “Sure,” Hall says.

When the UNC Board of Governors mulls whether to grant state approval to Founders, protection of students will be the key consideration, says Joni Worthington, the system’s vice president for communications. She says the board will review teacher qualifications, the school’s library and its financial backing, among other considerations. “The one thing we don’t look at is the question of demand.”