• 66°

Column: Legislators reinstate dysfunctional, homogenous UNC Board

by Colin Campbell

The UNC Board of Governors is a hot mess these days.

They’ve pushed out three respected university leaders: System President Margaret Spellings (a former education secretary under President George W. Bush), UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and East Carolina University Chancellor Cecil Staton. All of them got hefty payments on the way out that could have funded academics.

The biggest issue before the board is whether or not to reinstall the Silent Sam Confederate monument, which would require paying for round-the-clock security. And personal spats between board members routinely end up in the headlines. You’d think a group of mostly white Republican men could get along, but the board looks highly dysfunctional.

Last week though, the state legislators who appoint the board had a chance to hit the reset button. Twelve seats were up for appointments – an opportunity for some fresh faces and perhaps a bit more diversity.

Instead, lawmakers did the opposite. They reappointed 10 current board members in party-line votes, and added two white Republican businessmen to the remaining open seats. The House declined to reappoint an African-American Democrat, so the new board will become more white and male.

And for what appears to be the first time in the board’s history, there will be no Democrats leading the state’s university system. The bad press for university leadership is harming North Carolina’s ability to attract businesses, who want a stable system of higher education to supply talent, according to Rep. Robert Reives, D-Chatham. “They’re talking to us about workforce development, and that’s becoming code,” he said.

So why reappoint the same people? Well, when you’ve invited your personal friends, business associates and campaign donors to a party, it’s hard to ask them to leave when they misbehave.

One of the reappointed board members once hired House Speaker Tim Moore for legal work. According to WRAL, another leads a company that has employed two top House leaders in recent months. Others who were reappointed are wealthy Republican campaign donors. Most don’t appear to have a professional background in education. The one nominee the Senate didn’t select was Charlotte educational consultant Kaye McGarry, who was nominated by a Republican.

Some legislators seem almost embarrassed by their actions here. A typical appointment or confirmation process at the General Assembly features glowing speeches extolling the virtues of the nominee.

But this time, House Republicans did not make a single floor speech to praise their UNC board picks. Instead of holding an open election where any legislator could make nominations, the House held an up-or-down vote on a slate selected by leadership behind closed doors. Moore refused to speak with reporters after the vote.

To the Senate’s credit, at least it held the standard election, and Senate leader Phil Berger had the guts to describe the appointments as a “vote of confidence” in the current board. He told reporters that board chairman Harry Smith is doing “a good job,” and that he thinks “there’s a lot of diversity amongst Republicans” on the board.

While House Democrats rightfully complained that they were left out of the process, Senate Democrats did get a chance to make nominations. They didn’t file a single one, instead opting to throw stones from the sidelines and complain about long standing rules governing the balloting process.

Sure, the GOP would have rejected the Democratic picks, but they could have at least showed voters what a properly diverse UNC board might look like.

Democrats seem content to wait until they retake a legislative majority and then stock the UNC board full of their own political donors and personal friends – much as they did in past decades. But it’s on them to propose a different path: File legislation to restructure the UNC Board of Governors to ensure that it’s a diverse group with the expertise necessary to oversee our universities.

Other state boards feature appointments by the governor and other elected officials outside the legislature. And laws governing those boards require appointees from specific professional backgrounds – so UNC’s board could, for example, include seats for professors, public school superintendents and business leaders.

While the current UNC board continues to draw negative attention, now is the time to propose alternatives. The future of higher education in North Carolina depends on it.

Colin Campbell is editor of the Insider State Government News Service. Follow him at NCInsider.com or @RaleighReporter. Write to him at ccampbell@ncinsider.com.

FOR MORE COLUMNS AND LETTERS TO THE EDITOR, CHECK OUT OUR OPINION PAGE.

Crime

Arrest made in Saturday shooting on Knotts Island

News

NC 12 on Hatteras Island to reopen at 5 p.m., NCDOT advises ‘extreme caution’

News

NC 12 on Ocracoke back open, ferry service resumes

News

Overwash causes closure of parts of NC 12 on Hatteras and Ocracoke

News

Running out of storm names, Atlantic season goes Greek

News

Regional COVID-19 case count update

News

Permit for water treatment system issued for Chemours site

News

Duck Town Council reviews promotions and contracts

News

Mascot name change presentation brought to Dare Board of Education

News

Dare County warns about coastal flooding and NC 12 impact

News

Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative linemen travel to Alabama to assist with Hurricane Sally damage

Crime

UPDATED: Body found in Virginia believed to be missing North Carolina man, suspect charged

Hyde

NCDOT: Bigfoot Slough dredging tentatively scheduled for next week

News

Cooper: North Carolina can elementary schools move to Plan A in October

News

ARHS reports additional COVID-19 related death in Bertie County

News

Unsettled weather visits Outer Banks

News

Four positive COVID-19 cases reported at Peak Resources

News

Additional COVID-19 related death reported in Pasquotank County

News

NC lieutenant governor: Reopen schools without mask mandate

News

Some North Carolina voters mistakenly get two absentee ballots

Currituck

Currituck County Board of Education names Lutz as superintendent

Lifestyles

Constitution Week begins Thursday

News

Demolition starts for new College of The Albemarle building

News

Split North Carolina appeals court retains two amendments