by Jay Schalin, The Locker Room, May 29, 2015.
The search for a new UNC system president has reached the “remarkable” stage. That is, the Board of Governors has held a series of townhall-style meetings for public input into the qualities the new president should have, and, after attending one of them, you are left with the impression that it is quite “remarkable” that such an empty display should be part of a serious university system presidential search.
At the event held at NC Central University Thursday night, it seemed that what the “public” (primarily faculty, students, and former faculty) wants most of all from the new president is more money. Sometimes they want it to increase the number of campuses, sometimes they want it to make every existing campus as research-intensive as Chapel Hill and State are, sometimes they want all schools to get as much money as Chapel Hill, but whatever they want, chances are it’s going to cost.
They also want diversity. Sometimes they want a president who will focus on diversity, sometimes they want a president who is “diverse.” Ideological diversity was not mentioned, however, only the other kinds.
They also want no change to their carefully constructed oases (unless it’s more money and more diversity). They especially didn’t want the new president to be a “change agent”; rather, they want somebody who would function as an oxymoronic “servant-leader.”
Some want so little change they recommended outgoing president Tom Ross, whose contract was not renewed and expires at the end of the year, as the best person for the job to the people who chose not to renew his contract. Of course, that suggestion seemed practical compared to the people who wanted to dig up Bill Friday and prop him back up on his throne (I exaggerate slightly).
There have been three other events, at UNC-Asheville, UNC-Charlotte, and East Carolina University. The choice of locations—at universities, in two of the most liberal towns in the state in Durham and Asheville—plus the fact that the events were poorly publicized outside of the academic community suggests that the Governors only wanted to hear from a specific population, rather than the state as a whole. That is a grave error—a dereliction of duty, even. The universities already tilt so far to the left, and more input exclusively from the same sources that have completely dominated the system since its inception will only perpetuate what is already wrong.
Any reasonable attempt to understand what qualities a president needs should have focused outside the system, not inside it. New ideas and new paths are needed, not more of the same. Constantly repeating that “we’re the best system in the country” is not evidence of the need to remain rooted in one place.
Perhaps the best response to the whole concept was made by the Board of Governors member who peacefully slept through the Central event.