Naming new governors
Published March 11, 2021
By Tom Campbell
In a few days members of the North Carolina House and Senate will respectively name new members to the UNC Board of Governors (BOG). Our advice to them: DON’T. Naming new members will only make a flawed process worse.
North Carolina has never had a good system for governing education, but that’s another subject for another column. Let’s focus instead on the governance for our state-supported universities. D. G. Martin, former Secretary to the UNC System, has written a very good summary in Higher Ed Works of how university governance evolved. Find it at https://www.higheredworks.org/2020/01/martin-history-of-unc-governance.
Here’s my summarization. During the 1960s, the number of students wanting higher education exploded. North Carolina’s junior colleges, historically black and teacher training colleges grew rapidly, demanding more money, programs and buildings. Each, with the exception of the schools in Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Greensboro, had its own president and governing board of trustees; all were lobbying legislators for more help. Then the three-campus Consolidated University, consisting of UNC, NC State and Woman’s College, decided to add the Charlotte, Wilmington, and Asheville-Biltmore campuses, setting off even more jealousy and competition among those both in and out of this new framework. Schools not included wanted in. The bigger schools liked the way things were. A better governance system was needed.
Then-Governor Bob Scott led a movement to consolidate all 16 state-supported colleges and universities into one large system, administered by one President with a single governing board. The proposal touched off a civil war. Scott quickly learned many of the institutions were unwilling to give up their autonomy, fearing that the larger schools would harvest the most money and attention, while they got the scraps. The larger schools were concerned the funding “pie” would get sliced into more pieces and they would lose money and status. The in-fighting grew emotional and intense.
Scott finally persuaded enough legislators to go along with his plan, sweetened by promising legislators they would have sole power to name all the members of the new Board of Governors. There have been changes to the original structure over the years. Eight-year terms were reduced to four, membership was reduced from 32 to 24 governors, but perhaps the most significant was the elimination of promised representation to minorities, women and members of the party not in leadership in the legislature.
This plum appointment became tribal, consisting almost exclusively of white male Republicans. They fired and hired presidents with scant justification and drove off chancellors they didn’t like. Most recently they jimmied the process to name one of their own board members a chancellor. Many believed the BOG had gone rogue. Even lawmakers acknowledged as much by privately ousting the former chair and reigning in other members. New chair Randy Ramsey has done a commendable job of returning the board to normalcy and restoring its mission to policy setting.
Here’s my spin: Now is as good a time as any to fix governance problems. If the UNC system is truly supposed to be for all the people in our state, the board needs to look more like our state. 51 percent of our population is female and 21 percent African American. Our BOG is almost Lilly-white and male. 35 percent of us are registered Democrats, 33 percent Unaffiliated and almost 31 percent are Republicans. You’ll be hard pressed to find Democrats or Unaffiliated voters on the BOG. Finally, the BOG is loaded with lobbyists, former legislators or big political donors who have little knowledge or expertise governing institutions of higher learning.
I’m opposed to a strict quota system, but either our legislature needs to make this board look more like our populous or we need to change who names the governors. The UNC System is supposedly the “crown jewel” of our state but instead is more closely resembles an exclusive country club.