Silence Won’t Save Carolina

To say that UNC Chapel Hill faculty salaries have not kept pace with peers over the past 10 years is quite the understatement.  The accompanying graph paints a picture of not just an an ever-widening pay gap relative to peer schools, but an inflation adjusted pay cut.  This is concerning and unacceptable. The recently announced pay increases will not fix the problem and this pay gap versus peers is not limited to full-time professors at UNC-Chapel Hill. 

How did this happen over 10 years without someone raising the alarm or doing something about it?  The lack of visibility to this data was one factor, but with the negative headlines, governance overreach, and meddling in day-to-day operations, the silence of those who care was also a factor.  

The Coalition for Carolina will do all we can to shed a light on issues like this, but we need your help, your voice, your activism.  Those who love Carolina can reach out to the trustees, members of the Board of Governors, state legislators, and education policy makers to let them know how you feel about the policies and practices that are hurting the university.   As long as there is no pushback, the problems will continue. Silence won’t save Carolina.

Data Source: Chronicle for Higher Education: https://data.chronicle.com
Data Source: Chronicle for Higher Education: https://data.chronicle.com

The state has the resources to address faculty salaries and underfunding of public education in general.  See the related news below:

NC Gov. Cooper proposes more raises for state employees and teachers:

“North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called for Medicaid expansion and more money for state employees and teachers this year in his budget proposal ahead of the legislature’s spring session.

The state passed a two-year budget in 2021, but the General Assembly may pass additional spending bills during its short session, which begins on May 18.

The Republican-controlled legislature is unlikely to model those bills on the Democratic governor’s recommendation, but they will have to negotiate with Cooper to avoid a veto of their priorities.

Cooper presented his proposal to reporters Wednesday afternoon with State Budget Director Charlie Perusse.”

NC Republicans are currently considering state employee and teacher raises, tax cuts this session – Reach out and let them know you are in favor of this funding: 

The first signs of the Republican-majority General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper agreeing on something this year sprang forth on Wednesday: Raises for state employees and teachers.

What isn’t clear yet: how much they might be.

House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters on Wednesday, the first day of the legislative session, that House Republicans want to look at “some increases” for state employees and teachers.

While the state budget is passed every two years, smaller budget bills in between can adjust spending. Republicans are looking at both money for employees and some sort of possible tax relief, Moore said.”

Higher Ed Works calls on state leaders to use a $6.2 billion surplus to “Make education a priority again”.

“RALEIGH (May 18, 2022) – As the NC General Assembly reconvenes today with a $6.2 billion state budget surplus, it’s time to make education a priority again in North Carolina.

Officials announced last week that the state will take in $4.24 billion more than projected in the budget year that ends June 30 – a 15% increase. And they revised revenue projections for the budget year that begins July 1 upward by $1.96 billion, or nearly 7%.1 

Meanwhile, North Carolina ranks 34th among the states in average teacher pay and 41st in K-12 per-pupil expenditures.2 Community college faculty are paid even worse. Turnover among faculty and staff at UNC System campuses has spiked dramatically in the past year.3 

And inflation continues with an 8.5% increase in prices in the past year, devouring the 2.5% raises state workers received last year.4

Why is this Happening?

What a week!  We are proud to welcome the class of 2022 to their new status as UNC-CH alumni. Last week was filled with celebrations.  Frank Bruni and Chancellor Guskiewicz gave excellent remarks at the commencement ceremony and, coming off the heels of our fantastic men’s and women’s basketball season, things felt pretty good. 

Yet, as our great University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill successfully launched the class of 2022, ugly headlines related to university governance once again appeared. A damning report from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) was followed by a downgrading of the journalism school accreditation from The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC).  This rollercoaster of good times followed by bad news is frustrating and as we work our way through a series of emotions, many ask; why?  With respect to our governing bodies being so often at the center of the controversies, we asked former Chancellor Thorp for his opinion on what has changed.  It turns out that our governing bodies are not following what is known as good governance practices of “noses in and fingers out”.  Check out Chancellor Thorp’s opinion in the video below.

I would say, based on what I’ve observed, that the legislative bodies are much more involved in areas of university operation that they’ve never been involved in before. Particularly the hiring of administrators and the deciding on tenure and also on the curriculum.  This has never really been the case it’s always been true that the administration was responsible for hiring other administrators and the faculty were responsible for deciding on tenure and on the curriculum.  So, what you have now is kind of an incursion of the governing boards into areas that are not within the responsibility of the governing boards.  

There always has been incursion of various kinds from the UNC system and the governing boards.  During my time that was mostly in athletics.  And, you can see there that all of that interference really didn’t help matters very much and it’s not helping matters very much now to have the governing boards working on parts of university operations that are not in their remit.

Links to Recent News:

UNC-CH Journalism School Re-Accreditation Threatened

In the wake of the AAUP report that criticized “pervasive and overly partisan political control” at Carolina, The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, ACEJMC, sent another shot over UNC’s bow by downgrading the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s accreditation to “provisional.” https://www.wral.com/questions-about-diversity-inclusiveness-threaten-accreditation-of-unc-journalism-school/20261803/

After its review of UNC in 2021, the ACEJMC dinged the Hussman School for its lack of faculty diversity and inconsistencies enacting a 2016 diversity and inclusion plan.

It was an unexpected rebuke for what is widely recognized as the best school of journalism in the United States. Hussman students have won seven out of eight of the last annual Hearst Awards Competitions, the Pulitzer Prizes of student journalism, and the current Daily Tar Heel editor was just hired by the Washington Post even before her graduation.

Last year, in a widely-hailed coup, Pulitzer Prize winning author and McArthur Genius Grant recipient Nikole Hannah-Jones was hired as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism by Dean Susan King. But, instead of granting her the tenure offered to previous Knight Chairs that had been approved by the Hussman School’s faculty and the University’s Committee on Appointment, Promotions and Tenure, the University only offered her a five-year contract. After an outcry from faculty, students, and national media, the UNC Board of Trustees, working through its sub-committee on University Affairs, relented and finally voted to offer tenure in June. Hannah-Jones declined the position and took a Knight Chair at Howard University.

The accrediting team noted that in the aftermath of the Silent Sam controversy and the Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure debacle, “The UNC Hussman School is dealing with an existential crisis both internally and externally. The controversy surrounding the decision by Nikole Hanah-Jones to turn down a tenured, endowed chair at the school exposed long-standing problems. Several faculty members and staff, particularly those of color, said morale is low and they are considering leaving the school.” What we are experiencing here is yet another example of governance overreach that we alluded to in previous posts and Opeds. “Just as termite destruction can go undetected until the building starts to collapse, persistent politicization and governance overreach is taking a toll on Carolina.” The cumulative effect of politicization and overreach is now showing tangible damage to one of Carolina’s most respected schools.

A Welcome Calm at Carolina, but also Evidence of More Political Retribution

The recent success of Carolina’s men’s and women’s basketball teams during March Madness and fewer embarrassing situations involving governance overreach and politicization have provided much needed calm.  We are thankful for this relative calm and hope it continues. But, even in the midst of this calm, we have clear and frequent reminders that we have work to do.  

As the excitement of March Madness took our attention, NC Policy watch published an investigative piece detailing what happened when Professor Eric Muller wasn’t reappointed to the UNC Press board. A member of the UNC Press board says; “We were put in a position where we basically had to accept them [the UNC Board of Governors (BOG)] rejecting the reappointment of our unanimously elected chairman”. The member asked not to be identified because they said they still fear political retribution by members of the conservative-dominated BOG and several Press board members believe that a “culture of intimidation” from the BOG continues to threaten academic freedom across the university system.  

With respect to Professor Muller, here is what the investigative report reveals: 

One member of the press board stated: 

“They never satisfactorily explained the rejection and they refused to publicly debate or vote on the reappointment,” the board member said. “I think everyone on our board knew it was wrong, but we also knew that the harder we fought this, the more damage the Board of Governors could do to the Press. There was a strong chance that other programs and projects we are involved with individually would be targeted in retribution. Eric’s own case proved that and they have shown a willingness to go after people who oppose them time and again for years now.”

Reporter Joe Killian continued:

 “Muller ultimately resigned from the UNC Press Board rather than drag the organization through a grueling public — and possibly legal — fight with the Board of Governors. Policy Watch reached out to Muller for comment for this story. He declined. But UNC Press Board members and academics across the system warned the incident set a worrisome precedent: Conservative political appointees on the system’s governing board could ignore established procedure and assert complete control over groups and processes with which they are meant to share governance with faculty, staff and students.”

Follow this link to read the full investigative report.

Professor Eric Muller has responded to the piece on Twitter with the following statements:

“I was invited to comment for this excellent article on revelations about the process by which the @UNC_System Bd of Governors slapped me down last summer for speaking publicly about the university, race, & law in ways they didn’t like. I declined. But … I’ll say two things here.

First, the professional script in these situations is for the bullied person to emerge saying they’re unfazed, A-OK, and more committed than ever to speaking out. That’s not my script. This episode fazed me. It was very hard & remains so.

This episode demonstrates two critical methods these boards are using to assert control.  One is inaction to the point that a part of the university or university system has no choice but to comply in order to fulfill its mission.  The BOG would not vote on Professor Muller. They simply insisted another name be sent.  When the Chancellor refused to do so, the UNC Press board was in a difficult position: nominate someone else or face the inability to continue with its work. Professor Muller chose to step down.  But he should not have had to make this choice. The BOG should have voted him down if they did not want him in the role in the same way they should’ve voted on Nikole Hannah Jones when her dossier was originally put forward. Yes or No. But don’t hide behind inaction.  

Likewise, these situations send a clear message to faculty not to speak out if you want to be left alone to do the scholarship and service to the University to which they have committed their professional lives. Go along to get along. It is ironic that these same people are worried about speech on campus when their actions squelch it.

A Conversation with Former UNC System President Tom Ross – Part 1

Over the next several weeks, Coalition for Carolina will share videos from a recent conversation with former UNC System President Tom Ross.  We start with the following two videos where Ross shares thoughts on how shared governance should work and what the original vision was for the board of trustees.

How Shared Governance Should Work

Coalition for Carolina: We talk a lot about “shared governance” how has that changed or evolved over the past 10 years?

Former UNC System President Tom Ross:I think shared governance is a really fascinating concept in higher education, because the way it’s designed to work is for the faculty to have a role in the governance of institutions as well as the administration and governing boards. And I think it’s been healthy for universities to have that kind of shared governance. And over time, it has proven to be a smart way to govern institutions.

Over the last ten years, we’ve seen that begin to shift really everywhere around the country. And there’s been sort of [more] of a role of governing boards and perhaps a little bit lesser role for faculty in the way it’s working now.

I’m not sure if you go back historically and think about the role of faculty that is at the core of an institution.  That [faculty] is what makes higher education what it is and what makes a university great is the quality of their faculty. And, so when you have a system that begins to have faculty playing a smaller or lesser role, then I think that can do damage over time to the university.”

The Original Role of The Board of Trustees Explained

Coalition for Carolina:  We have a complicated governance hierarchy with legislators, the Board of Governors and boards of trustees.  What do you think the role of the trustees is in this structure?

Former UNC System President Tom Ross: “I think when you’re thinking about the role of the board of trustees and the governance structure, particularly in the UNC system, you have to remember that you have a board of governors [that] is really responsible for the major oversight and policy questions. 

And, if you go back to when the system was created, we created a new board of governors to represent the whole state and look at all of the system. But we wanted to retain, or there was a movement to retain, boards of trustees because I think people felt like you needed a board on the campus because you wanted a group of people to promote the campus and to enthusiastically endorse that campus and go out and help the chancellor in any way they could. And that’s really what the tradition of the [board of] trustees has been– to advise and assist the chancellor, advise on the budget, advise on a number of different issues, including athletics and that sort of thing. But really to be a booster for the institution.And [while] they’ve had responsibility to approve tenure and some issues that are campus based, I think that [it] was appropriate to have that board [of trustees] really focused on advising the chancellor. But I think what you have to be careful of with a campus board of trustees is that it becomes more of an oversight operations board, which is really what the Board of Governors should be doing.”

President Peter Hans responds to questions from The Coalition for Carolina

The Coalition for Carolina posed several questions to UNC System President Peter Hans and appreciate his written responses. 

Coalition for Carolina: What makes Carolina great? Why are we among the top five public universities in the country?

President Peter Hans: By any measure, UNC Chapel Hill is an extraordinary institution. It’s the nation’s oldest public university and one of the world’s great centers of research and innovation. It has been a beacon of opportunity to generations of North Carolinians. It changed my life, certainly, and I know it does the same for thousands of students each year. 

You could write a book on what makes Carolina a great university — people have! — but to me it comes down to this: UNC Chapel Hill has grown into a world-class university while staying true to its core mission of welcoming and serving the people of North Carolina. There aren’t many public flagships in the country that have remained so deeply rooted in service to their home states while also performing at the very highest levels, and Carolina’s ability to balance those goals is what really sets it apart.

Coalition for Carolina: In what ways is UNC Chapel Hill’s role unique among System schools? How does the System Office and the Board of Governors more generally understand the role of the flagship?

President Peter Hans: Every institution in the UNC System has a unique history and a unique role to play. Carolina is a magnet for some of the most talented students in our state and across the country. It’s a research powerhouse, helping to make North Carolina a leader in areas crucial to our long-term growth. And through UNC Health Care and all of its affiliates, Carolina plays a huge part in meeting the health needs of our state. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I think all of us understand the importance of having an institution like Carolina at the heart of our state and our university system. 

At the same time, I think everyone in Chapel Hill recognizes the value of being part of a broader system of higher education, and having partners across the state in fulfilling the core responsibilities of teaching, research, and public service. Support for public higher education remains so strong in North Carolina because the people of this state see its continuing relevance to their lives and aspirations, whether that’s Nobel-winning research in Chapel Hill, excellent public health programs in Greenville, or a fantastically good nursing school at NCA&T. We’re all stronger when we work together toward shared goals for our state.

Coalition for Carolina: Chancellor Guskiewicz enjoys strong support from many Carolina constituencies. What do you think the strengths of his leadership approach are? What would you like to see him do differently? Do you support his continued leadership?

President Peter Hans: He enjoys my strong support, as well. Through some of the greatest disruption in the history of this University, Chancellor Guskiewicz has kept Carolina focused on its core mission. The ability to stay focused and deliver on those key priorities is a major reason that UNC Chapel Hill is emerging from the covid pandemic in such strong shape to invest and grow. 

Like every big and high-profile institution in the country, I think Carolina is struggling to manage some tension between people who see the place as a stage for conflict and people who just want to do good and worthwhile work. There are times when I think the University could do more to elevate thoughtful voices rather than conflict entrepreneurs, but that’s a challenge for everyone in public service right now. In this regard, the UNC Program for Public Discourse is an example of the Chancellor’s leadership in a positive direction.

Coalition for Carolina: What would you like to see Carolina doing differently and why?

President Peter Hans: My job is to support our state’s public universities. I have conversations all the time with our chancellors about how we can work together to improve performance, address problems, or change our approach as the needs of North Carolina change. I don’t think those working relationships are well-served by the person in my role offering public critiques.

I’d also point to the System’s strategic plan, and each institution’s annual report on their progress, as an excellent and very transparent look at how we’re asking each campus to grow and focus. At UNC Chapel Hill, that has meant putting more resources into low-income completion, rural enrollment, and graduates in high-demand fields like health sciences and education. (You can 
read the details here.) What I find so valuable about the System’s approach is that it sets shared goals, then allows each campus to decide how they can best contribute. Everyone gets to play to their strengths while improving core performance, and the whole System gets better.

Coalition for Carolina: I think we can all agree that certain metrics like enrollment, student quality, and research are all very strong at Carolina today. But do you agree that faculty and staff morale, their latitude and compensation are also key metrics and vitally important to the success of every university?

President Peter Hans: A strong and intellectually vibrant faculty is the foundation of any great university. By any measure, Carolina’s faculty is among the most productive and accomplished in the world. We’ve been vocal at the UNC System about the need to raise compensation so that we can retain talented faculty and staff, and our lawmakers came through a 5% raise in the last budget. I know the leadership in Chapel Hill is very focused on raising private dollars to remain competitive, and the shared work between the System and the campus on a more comprehensive and transparent budget model should make it easier to allocate resources toward those critical priorities.

But before we move on, I just want to note that those metrics you mentioned — growing enrollment, highly competitive students, and being on track to earn more than a billion dollars in sponsored research this year — are incredibly hard to pull off, even for a highly regarded institution like Carolina. I don’t take that for granted, and I don’t think anyone in our state does, either. You can’t achieve that kind of excellence without an extraordinary faculty.

Coalition for Carolina: The peer set for every school is different. Historically, faculty salaries have taken that into account and UNC has been very competitive. We’ve seen from the Chronicle of Higher Education data that UNC-CH faculty salaries have fallen behind alarmingly. This may also be true for other schools in the System. What actions can you and the BOG/BOT take to address this?

President Peter Hans: We advocated strongly to raise compensation for both faculty and staff in the latest state budget, and we succeeded. We know there’s more to be done, especially for graduate students and adjunct instructors, and particularly as inflation affects the cost of living. We’ll continue to push for competitive compensation.

We’ve also worked with each of our institutions to create a more comprehensive and transparent budget model that allows campus leaders to make strategic investments with greater confidence. I think one of the most important things Chancellor Guskiewicz and his team have done over the last two years is confidently tackling the university’s long-running budget deficit, making some hard choices so that Carolina is in a position to invest in key areas, such as compensation. That underlying budget challenge had been building for a long time, and it took courage and discipline to fix it.
 

Coalition for Carolina: Many people have pointed out the lack of diversity on the Board of Governors. How important do you think it is that we have a diversified Board of Governors that represents all North Carolinians. Is your own team reflective of the state’s diversity?

President Peter Hans: North Carolina is a big and diverse state — ninth largest in the country and growing fast. I think we all take seriously the obligation to represent and serve that very dynamic population, and we all recognize there are ways we can do it better. Diversity in race and gender is important, as is diversity in terms of economic background, expertise, and ideas. We have a broad and diverse twenty-five person leadership team at the System Office, and I’m committed to working with colleagues that can earn the trust and confidence of the people we serve. If you’d like further detail on the team please contact my chief of staff, Norma Houston, who is incidentally a fifteen-year member of Chapel Hill’s faculty.

Coalition for Carolina: Talk about the policy that enables you to add your own candidates to searches for Chancellors, and specifically the part that requires at least one be sent to you as a finalist. What was the purpose of this policy change? If your final pick was not a choice of the campuses’ search committees, what do you think the repercussions would be?

President Peter Hans:
To be effective, chancellors must have the trust of their campus communities so their involvement in the search process is essential. Chancellors also need the confidence of state policymakers and the broader public. Higher education depends on a lot of different constituencies to succeed.Hiring and helping chancellors is one of the most important things the UNC System President does, and no one is more invested in their success than I am. I spend an enormous amount of my time talking with our chancellors, supporting them to work through difficult problems or figuring out how we can provide better assistance in key areas.

Given that those campus leaders report to the System President, it makes sense that the person in my role has strong input into the selection process. This change provides a transparent option (not a requirement) in the search process. Again, no single person has a higher stake in a successful search than the System President when you consider the reporting relationship and when you take into account my responsibility to each institution.

Coalition for Carolina: In the past, the Chancellor has recommended candidates for the UNC Board of Trustees. This year none of those recommendations were taken. Were you aware or involved in that decision-making? Do you think that was a good course of action?

President Peter Hans: Under our governance structure, the System President is not involved in trustee selection. I think the trustees at Carolina and all of our institutions understand that their role is to advise campus leadership, offer insight and informed judgment to the Board of Governors with their delegated responsibilities, and help tell the story of their institutions to the wider world. 

I also think it’s worth remembering that these are not easy roles. They involve a lot of public scrutiny, as they should, and working with a lot of different constituencies that often have competing ideas about the direction of the University. I commend anyone — past and present — who’s willing to step up and render that volunteer service to our public universities.

Coalition for Carolina: Do you think it’s good practice for Trustees to serve on the search committee of Deans and to get involved with the search and approval process of Tier I and Tier II hires, promotion, and compensation?

President Peter Hans: I think the right balance in shared governance between oversight and autonomy can take some time to get right, and it relies as much on norms of trust and reciprocity as it does on formal rules. Having trustees who are well-informed and fully invested in the leadership of the campus is valuable, and chancellors have a lot of say in how they choose to involve their boards and keep them updated. Each institution takes a different approach, and I don’t micromanage that.

Coalition for Carolina: How do you think the Nikole Hannah-Jones situation could have been handled differently?

President Peter Hans: Any time you have a failed hire — and especially a very high-profile failed hire — there are things that could have gone differently. In this case, I think the University could have been much more clear about the tenure process, the criteria, and where the authority to grant tenure resides. A lot more direct communication and dialogue would have been better than seeing various parties trying to fight out their viewpoints in the media.

Coalition for Carolina: What is your perception of the Coalition for Carolina?

President Peter Hans: The passionate involvement of alumni and supporters is a good thing in the life of any university, and I welcome it. The conflicts at Carolina get plenty of airtime already, so I hope the Coalition can help people understand what a magnificent and prodigiously productive place UNC Chapel Hill continues to be. I’m proud to be a Carolina alum, and I will always work with anyone who wants to make it better.

Marty Kotis and the Student Body President Debate

UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees (BOT) Chairman David Boliek advised trustees to stay out of student government campaigns and elections, but Trustee Mary Kotis did not follow that advice.  

First reported in this article by NC Policy Watch, on February 7, 2022 Kotis not only attended the online debate between candidates for student body president, but actively participated in questioning candidates and challenging some of their responses. 

Several students complained about this overreach and inappropriate behavior to Student Body President Lamar Richards.  Richards sent a complaint to the UNC System president and chair of the UNC Board of Governors’ University Governance Committee, alleging that Kotis attended an online debate, asked questions and offered “pointed, professionally inappropriate responses in the chat”.  Richards is requesting that Kotis be removed from the Board of Trustees.

In a long, detailed response, Kotis:

  • admitted to asking the very first question, which Richards says set the tone for the debate;  
  • agreed that he was not pleased with a response from a candidate, (who accused the BOT of being highly partisan) so followed up in the chat to challenge that student by name; 
  • denied that Chair Boliek made it clear that trustees were not to get involved in the ongoing Student Body Presidential election, but agreed that Boliek did remind the Board of the trustee abuse of power that happened at East Carolina University (ECU);
  • acknowledged that he knew better and referenced his own active involvement in disciplining trustees involved in the ECU incident;
  • appears to mock Richards for saying that he did not want his “peers to feel threatened, unsafe, nor uncomfortable at the hands of a Trustee”;
  • criticized a portion of Richards’ complaint as being “hyperbole and drama”; and
  • threatened a defamation complaint.

In subsequent interviews about his behavior, Kotis:

Parents don’t send their children to one of the top public universities in the country to be, unnecessarily, mocked, harassed, or disparaged by political appointees to the board of trustees.

Paul Fulton Suggestions for Good Governance

In our February 2, 2022 webinar, Winston-Salem businessman and former Board of Governors member Mr. Paul Fulton provided suggestions for how the UNC system governing bodies can provide stability and leadership that empowers not distracts. Some of his suggestions:

  • Ensure that the diversity of the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees matches the diversity of North Carolina and our universities.
  • De-politicize the selection process:
    • Distribute responsibility for appointing board members more broadly.
    • Restore the governor’s previously stripped appointing ability.
    • Perhaps adopt a law that would require minority party representation.
  • Appoint qualified board members who:
    • Fit with the universities’ needs 
    • Understand that their duty and loyalty is to the institution that the board represents not to the institution or elected official that appoints board members.
    • Perform their duties according to governance best practices.  Their role is to shape policy, not micromanage, nor get involved in day-to-day operations.

Video transcript of Mr. Paul Fulton – Winston-Salem businessman and former Board of Governors member:

I’m a firm believer that our university is the state’s greatest asset. I know a lot of other people that would agree with that. But today, as you’ve heard, a little bit already, our university tells

a very complicated story with world class highs. (We’ve certainly had a number of those.) We also have some dominating headline lows. And in recent years, the turmoil has risen sharply.

The UNC system has had its reputation tarnished. Good leaders have left our campuses and our campus has been upended and distracted. So, to me, it leaves us with one really central question, how can the UNC system provide stability and leadership that empowers not distracts the leaders of our campus level where the real work is really being done?

Put differently, how can we improve governance?

The two basic issues or problems facing our university regarding governance. Number one is over politicization of our governing boards. Number two, the selection process for our government boards and the two are definitely connected.

So here are a few suggestions from these prominent leaders. First, from Don Flow, a prominent Winston Salem business man and leader, and I quote Don, “For decades,

The UNC system has achieved excellence because of great leaders, but good leaders need an environment and a structure that supports them. They need a governance structure that enables visionary planning as well as bold action.” 

Flow continues, “We must look at the selection process. If it is not depoliticized, the UNC system will be significantly and permanently diminished.”

Former Board of Governors Chair Lou Bissette said, “This is a diverse state, but we do not have a diverse board. Of the board’s 24 members today, only two live west of Charlotte,” and Lou is very sensitive about that coming from Asheville. Only three are persons of color. Only five are women and only one Democrat. And that simply is not representative of our state.

Former Governor Jim Martin said that just as we need diversity of thought among professors, we also need diversity on the governing board. Governor Martin proposed that we again adopt a law and that is a law that would require minority party representation on governing boards.

And as Senator Burr and Erskine Bowles stated, we should debate among all of us how to improve the makeup of the board, overseeing the UNC schools, ensuring bipartisan representation, which should be a good first step towards fostering stability.

Bissette and others had authority for appointing board members should be distributed more broadly. In the past, including the governor, most folks thought it was healthy.

Bissette and Belle Wheelan, who you’ll hear from in a minute and Chancellor Moeser already introduced, Belle Wheelan the President and CEO of the agency that accredits all 16 UNC institutions both pointed out that a board member’s duties is to the institution that it represents. It’s not to the institution that appoints its members and no micromanagement.

Wheelan, Flow and former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl said board members are to shape policy. They’re not there to manage day to day operations. When a board intervenes in management, it drives away executive talent, and we all know that, Don Flow was quoted to say that, “any board that engages in operational details will always undermine the president.” Again, something we all know.

Our goal here is to elevate the discussion of governance. The best outcome we could have would be for a commission to study these proposals and others and make recommendations to the governor and the Legislature.

Hugh McColl said recently, “it is time for state leaders to step in and improve a governance situation that has become fundamentally unsustainable.”

Thank you, it’s a pleasure being here today.


Visit our YouTube channel for more content from our University Governance Webinar.

Politics and University Governance

While politics have been a factor in university governance in the past, the level of overreach UNC is experiencing is unprecedented.  We asked Former Chancellor Holden Thorp, Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser, and SACSCOC President Belle Wheelan to share their perspectives on how politics in university governance has changed over time.  Check out their responses about politics in the accompanying videos. The Coalition will examine the impact current unprecedented governance overreach in future posts.


Coalition for Carolina: How are politics impacting higher education governance around the country?

Dr. Holden Thorp: Well, we have a whole lot of incidents around the country of boards becoming more intrusive into higher education. And, mostly it relates to how conservative politics would prefer to see higher education carry out their work. And, this really comes down to the fact that there has been, over the last about 50 years or so, an effort by the political right to change facts when they need to change them to suit their political goals.


Coalition for Carolina: How did university governance work in the past?

Dr. James Moeser: I was thinking back about my time when I was chancellor from 2000 to 2008 and one of the things I realized is that I never knew quite exactly what particular party a particular board member subscribed to, or whether he or she was a member of a party.  I remember once a conversation with one of my best board chairs, Tim Burnett. And, I said to him, “Tim I thought you were a Republican.”  He said,” whatever gave you that idea?  I’m not a Republican.” I’m not sure exactly what Tim’s party affiliation was, if he had one, but, the point is that with both trustees and Board of Governors members, I was more concerned about their affiliation with an institution or a region of the state…. I was never concerned about their political affiliation.  That is to say that governance in North Carolina was essentially nonpartisan.  And now today it’s very partisan and very political and that’s a corruption, in my view. And, I think it’s something we are determined to change.


Coalition for Carolina: How have politics and university governance changed over time?

Dr. Belle Wheelan: It is true that for years our boards have been political whether the Democrats were in charge or the Republicans were in charge. It just appears that of recent, not just at UNC, but all across the country, there is a shift in the ideology of board members of what should be done, and what shouldn’t be done at that then puts them on the other side, if you will, of what the administration may propose. And, so you end up with policies that look very different than what we are accustomed to seeing because there is a change in philosophy.


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A RIGHT TURN: HAS GOP INFLUENCED HOW THE UNC SYSTEM IS LED?

Our title is copied from the title of a series recently published in the Charlotte Observer and News & Observer. The series introduction reads as follows:

“Have corrosive tensions between conservative leadership and more liberal campus cultures, along with a run of bad press, done enough to actually damage the University of North Carolina System’s traditionally stellar quality during a decade of Republican control? Are some groups of people being left behind? Read this series of special commentary from the opinion staff at The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer.”

We’ve read each piece in the series and they are very well worth your time to read if you’re concerned about what’s happening with governance of the UNC system. Several of our followers on social media have asked if we can reprint the pieces in their entirety since they require a subscription to view. Unfortunately, we don’t have permission to reprint that content, however we have shared a few of our takeaways below.

Note: One reader on Twitter asked why more republicans were not quoted in the pieces. Here is the response from Ned Barnett, the lead journalist of the series:

“We sought comment from the chair of the UNC Board of Governors, the chair of the UNC-CH Board of Trustees and House speaker Tim Moore. None responded. We asked UNC Board of Governors member Leo Daughtry to comment, he declined to comment.”

Part 1: Has a decade of Republican maneuvering really harmed the UNC System? | Opinion 

  • UNC board of governors members are political appointees who then go on to appoint like-minded board of trustee members. The appointment and selection processes are, therefore, political.
  • In the wake of a demoralized faculty, declining faculty salaries, and a series of embarrassing episodes that make national headlines, the UNC System president, Peter Hans, believes the fundamentals of the UNC system are strong.

Part 2: Across the UNC System, signs of Republican influence | Opinion 

Instances of GOP influence and impact on UNC system on multiple campuses is examined. Campuses highlighted include NC State, East Carolina, Fayetteville State, NC Central, Western Carolina. Topics cover covid, campus life, chancellors, the current chaos and more.

Part 3: NC has cut spending on higher education — at the expense of everyone else | Opinion 

A compelling piece by Paige Masten on waning state investment in higher education.

  • State investment in higher education decreased 13% between 2008 and 2020
  • The expense from the disinvestment was passed on to students and parents
  • Campuses have been forced to seek private funds to meet needs – both Carolina and NC State just finished billion-dollar campaigns. (We know from what happened with Nikole Hannah-Jones that private funds can come with strings.)
  • Faculty pay has fallen behind that of peers

Part 4: Who is UNC-Chapel Hill truly for? Just the university of (some) people? | Opinion 

This piece details the challenges in preparing students from rural NC and other diverse backgrounds for the academic rigor that Carolina provides. The writer makes a case for adequately funding all of public education and providing the additional resources these students need to succeed.

Chart: NC appropriations for full-time college students decreased more than national average 

The referenced chart shows the trend in per student funding between 2008 and 2020. Here is a quote from the piece: “

“Per-student appropriations for higher education in North Carolina decreased by 13% between 2008 and 2020, when adjusted for inflation. The U.S. average in that same time period was just a 2% decrease.”