March Madness Memories

Highlights from the UNC-CH versus Baylor Game

How about those Heels!

While we are always proud of Carolina, March is a special time for basketball fans. This year is no exception. We are especially proud to see both our men’s and women’s basketball teams in the Sweet 16!  As we root for the Tar Heels to go all the way, we are mindful of the privilege we’ve had through the years to be able to watch many exciting March Madness games, and other NCAA Championship events, right here in North Carolina.

While we’re able to watch our women’s team play just down the road in Greensboro this month, we are reminded that the same politics doing harm to Carolina and the UNC System today drove the NCAA to pull seven championship events from North Carolina in 2016.  Just like the Silent Sam and Nikole Hannah-Jones incidents, coverage of the so-called “bathroom bill” made for embarrassing national headlines. In 2016, the NCAA issued the following statement and Twitter post with their decision to pull the games:

“Based on the NCAA’s commitment to fairness and inclusion, the Association will relocate all seven previously awarded championship events from North Carolina during the 2016-17 academic year,”

So, as we go into the weekend to cheer our men’s and women’s teams into the Final Four, let’s be mindful that even the joy and excitement of March Madness can be ruined by politics.   

Here at the Coalition for Carolina, we will continue to do all we can to reduce the level of politicization and overreach currently taking place at Carolina and throughout the UNC System.


A Conversation with Former UNC System President Tom Ross – Part 2

It was indeed huge news when the UNC Board of Governors (BOG) pushed former UNC President Tom Ross out of his job.  It was even bigger news when the public learned that the BOG could not give a good reason for doing so.  In fact, in the BOG issued statement after the firing, they said that Ross was doing a good job.  Here is an excerpt from that BOG statement: 

“This decision has nothing to do with President Ross’s performance or ability to continue in the office. The Board respects President Ross and greatly appreciates his service to the University and to the State of North Carolina.”

So, with no good reason given for firing former President Ross, the BOG was asked if the firing was political.  If you watch the ABC 11 coverage, you will see a very uncomfortable BOG Chair emphatically deny that the firing was political.  What did former President Ross believe?  Well, more than seven years later, and after similar shocking and embarrassing incidents, we asked him.  Here is his response:

Departure as UNC System President

Coalition for Carolina: What are your thoughts about how you came to leave your job as President of the UNC System?

Former UNC System President Tom Ross: “Most people who observed that realized that it was a political decision that was made, somewhere, not sure exactly where. And the way I tried to handle that was, not to do as was going on a few months before at the University of Virginia or other places where there was a big protest for the university. I thought it would bring negative publicity and attention to the university. And I didn’t want to do that because I love the university. But I also wanted people to know what was going on because I felt like I had done a good job and I wanted to stay. And so, I wanted people to know what was going on.

And you know, I think the board made it clear that they were pleased with my performance, that things were going well. It had nothing to do with me and that was the message I wanted to get out because I wanted people to understand, first of all, it wasn’t something I did wrong –because I needed to go find another job. But it was also the beginning of what I believed was some sort of political intrusion into university governance system.

“But it was also the beginning of what I believe was some sort of political intrusion into university governance system.”

When I addressed the Board of Governors as I was leaving, I made the point that I hoped that they would always put the university first and not politics. Because I think, again… I used to tell the story about Terry Sanford when he was president of Duke. He was speaking in Atlanta and was asked a question. It was a Chamber of Commerce meeting, I think. And, he was asked the question; what has propelled North Carolina to sort of be the new South and to be a leader in economic development and so forth in the South? And his answer– while being president of Duke University–his answer was the University of North Carolina. And I think he was right. I think the university has been a tremendous asset for this state and so when I left, I wanted people to know what was going on. But I also wanted to do what I could to preserve the greatness of our university and hope everybody will do that.”

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.

We see many troubling signs on the horizon at Carolina

We are responding to a recent opinion piece by David Boliek, Chair of the UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, which objects to recent articles in the News and Observer about actions taken by the leadership of the General Assembly that have been harmful to UNC-Chapel Hill and the UNC System.

Mr. Boliek ends his opinion piece with the statement, “You can’t be for something and against it at the same time.”  We think he entirely misses the point of the recent analysis and feedback on the UNC System and UNC-Chapel Hill governing boards by the News and Observer and the Coalition for Carolina.  We agree with Boliek that, in many ways, Carolina has never been stronger.  Application numbers are up, external funding for research has reached record levels, and the Campaign for Carolina has already reached its $4 Billion goal a year early. This is happening in spite of the damage our governing boards are inflicting. It is happening because of the leadership of Chancellor Guskiewicz and the commitment and hard work of faculty and alumnae who believe in the mission of the University and the strong foundation of excellence the university built long before the unprecedented politicization and governance overreach of the past 10 years. Boliek himself acknowledges this foundation. As an example, Carolina recently announced that $31 million in technology licensing deals and equity payments received in 2021 is due to decades-long investments into big ideas.

We see many troubling signs on the horizon. Just as termite destruction can go undetected until the building starts to collapse, persistent politicization and governance overreach is taking a toll on Carolina. Some examples:

  • Last summer, the Board of Trustees created a policy to insert themselves into tier II hiring. This has led to a new biweekly administrative procedure that deans and others must follow in order to hire the people they need to make their schools and departments work.  This new process is unnecessary overreach that gums up the works, hurts morale and productivity, and makes life more difficult for administrators and deans. It should be reversed for the good of the campus.
  • The mishandling of the Nikole Hannah Jones tenure debacle as well as the protracted fight over Slient Sam has had a very negative impact on faculty, staff, and students of color. Many in our community are “on the bubble” of wanting to stay or go because of the overreach and interference by the BOT and BOG in these situations.
  • While the faculty did receive their first state-funded increase in compensation this year, between 2008 and 2018 average salaries for full-time and associate professors at peer schools rose more than 30%, but Carolina salaries rose less than 15%.  As a result, Carolina has slipped from ranking in the middle to in the bottom quartile. Yes, we are strong because they are committed (for now), but we are also very vulnerable and this needs to be addressed.
  • The Board of Trustees is silencing key members of the community. The UNC Chapel Hill Faculty Chair, President of the Graduate and Professional Student Government, and Employee Forum Chair have historically been invited to speak at every UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees meeting.  At least one of these individuals, and usually all three, spoke at every BOT meeting until May of 2021 when the Board of Trustees stopped inviting them. The Board later reinvited them, but only for 1/3 of the time that they historically have been given. Actions like this chip away at trust and contribute to the slow destruction of the university from the inside.
  • The Board of Trustees has even considered inserting themselves into the admissions appeals process. Following through with such unprecedented overreach would be yet another blow to stability and trust at Carolina.

In his penultimate paragraph Boliek states, “it would be much more productive to suggest positive initiatives that make Carolina better, not tear it down.”  We have and will continue to offer suggestions.  Here are a few more:

First, acknowledge the critical role that the faculty, staff, and administration play in maintaining UNC Chapel Hill’s excellence and let them do the job of teaching, research, and running the campus without policies that undermine their voice and interfere with day-to-day university operations.

Second, acknowledge and take seriously the letter signed by all former faculty chairs asking that faculty chairs, now and in the future, have a place at the BOT table to promote communication, relationship building, and meaningful shared governance. This letter was sent to the Trustees and has been referenced by the current chair at multiple meetings. It has not been discussed, simply discarded.

Third, both the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees need to respect the tradition of shared governance with the faculty.  Faculty are disheartened and feel disrespected by several actions that the Trustees have taken in the last few months. (Some of which we referenced above.) Governing boards exist to set policy for the institutions in their charge and to hire the chief executive to operate the day-to-day activities of the universities.  The trustees and the governors need to stay in their lane, and let the Chancellor and his staff run the University. Trust our leaders, staff and faculty to run the university. Give them the freedom to run the school unencumbered.

Next, Mr. Boliek said not a word about the arts and humanities, areas of great strength historically at UNC.  Nor did he mention our School of Social Work which is number 3 in the country. Why is that?  And, as for diversity, the Board of Trustees does not reflect the demographics of the University nor the state and it should.  This is something that is an easy fix. 

Finally, we would conclude by suggesting that Carolina should strive to be both great and good, by which we mean that excellence should always be our goal, but not our sole criterion.  We should also strive for moral and ethical leadership.  The quality of goodness has always defined Carolina.  We think it is our most important legacy. It is how we changed North Carolina, and indeed, the entire South.

Hark the Sound.

James Moeser
Chancellor Emeritus
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Roger Perry
Co-founder, Coalition for Carolina
Former Chair, UNC-CH Board of Trustees