A Big Step Forward: UNC System President and Board of Governors Rein in Trustees at Carolina

UNC President Peter Hans and the UNC System Board of Governors have taken significant – and laudable – action to support sound leadership to UNC-Chapel Hill.

In an “Administrative Memorandum” to Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts and trustees’ Chair John Preyer, President Hans and BOG Chair Randy Ramsey:

  • Made clear that trustees “shall refrain from directing matters of administrative or executive action except through the chancellor.”
  • Empowered the chancellor to set agendas for trustees’ meetings and required trustees to submit requests for agenda items to the chancellor in advance and in writing.
  • Took back from the trustees, authority for a series of personnel actions – and assigned that authority to the interim chancellor.

The memo from is dated January 12, the same day Roberts took over as interim chancellor. While it was sent two months ago, it came to public notice only last week.

Read it here: https://coalitionforcarolinafoundation.org/letter-from-ramsey-and-hans-to-preyer-and-roberts/

Hear, Hear!

The Coalition for Carolina applauds President Hans and BOG Chair Ramsey for their action.

On December 14 of last year, we posted a petition urging Hans and Ramsey to:

  • “Stop trustees’ improper interference at Carolina,” and
  • “Ensure that the next Chancellor at Carolina maintains the standard of excellence that we all expect at America’s oldest and greatest state public university.”

Read our petition here: https://coalitionforcarolinafoundation.org/sign-our-petition-stop-the-political-meddling-that-chased-away-chancellor-guskiewicz/

The January 12 memorandum is a giant step in the right direction.

It says:

“These important actions are taken simultaneously to empower the interim chancellor to lead UNC-Chapel Hill and act decisively in the best interests of the University. While these actions necessarily rebalance the roles and responsibilities of the Office of Chancellor and the role of the Board of Trustees, empowering the interim chancellor by treating UNC Chapel Hill similarly to every other campus within the University System is an important step to maintain the excellence of UNC Chapel Hill.”

We could not agree more.

The memo is written with legal precision, and it is crisp and clear. It concludes: “We look forward to continuing to work with the UNC Chapel Hill leadership to stay apprised of these efforts.”

Trustees’ Role is “Advisory”

The memo said, “The role of the constituent institution boards of trustees is to promote the sound development of the institution by serving in an advisory capacity to the Board of Governors and the chancellor” (emphasis added).

Roberts echoed that language when he participated in a webinar with our coalition March 20. He said then that trustees’ role should be “guidance, advice and advocacy.” He made clear that “I report to the system president, Peter Hans, as everybody knows.”

Too often in recent years, individual trustees have improperly inserted themselves into university operations, including admissions, personnel and even academics, such as the creation of the controversial new School of Civic Life and Leadership.

While we may not agree with Interim Chancellor Roberts on every issue, we believe he should have authority to lead UNC without improper interference by trustees.

Agenda Authority

President Hans and the BOG put the interim chancellor clearly in charge of deciding the agenda for meetings of the full board of trustees and its committees, “in consultation” with the chairs “as appropriate.”

The memo said:

“Every request for inclusion of an item on the agenda of a meeting shall be put in writing and filed, together with any supporting documents, with the interim chancellor sufficiently far in advance of the meeting to permit a determination to be made by the interim chancellor with respect to the propriety and practicability of including that item on the agenda for the meeting.”

We hope this process will avoid the debacle that led to Heather Mac Donald, a right-wing critic of higher education, speaking to a trustees’ committee last November, where she launched an unjustified and unsupported assault on the very things that make UNC great.

The memo reminded trustees that UNC bylaws provide for agendas to be made available at least seven days before regular meetings and four days before special meetings.

Personnel Authority

The memo “updated” – in reality, withdrew – previous delegations of authority to the board of trustees on personnel matters:

“To better align UNC Chapel Hill’s delegation of authority regarding personnel actions with the rest of the UNC System, this administrative memorandum suspends and modifies UNC Chapel Hill’s delegation of authority … to provide that, notwithstanding any previous delegation made to UNC Chapel Hill’s board of trustees, the interim chancellor, or the interim chancellor’s designee, shall have the authority to execute…personnel actions,” including:

  • Appointment or reappointment of a faculty member to a tenure-track position.
  • Appointments of special faculty, associate or assistant deans, department heads or chairs, associate or assistant vice chancellors, members of the chancellor’s staff, among others.
  • Salary adjustments, including for athletics coaches.
  • Faculty rank promotions.
  • The final section on “Tier I SAAO Selection” indicates that is the Chancellor’s decision to appoint search committees and select these individuals. Positions like this include: Executive Vice Chancellor, Provost, Vice Chancellor, Dean, or Directors of major administrative, educational, research, and public services activities.  Again, this is a directive to allow the Chancellor to do their job without interference.

A Final Thought

Since we founded the Coalition for Carolina more than two years ago, we have pushed back against political interference and trustees’ overreach that we believe have damaged Carolina.

This battle is not won. Still, this action by President Hans and the Board of Governors is encouraging.

We believe our efforts have played some part in this progress. We take pride in that.

At the same time, we know that much work remains to be done.

We hope you will join us, read our reports and support our efforts – by passing on this information, by making your voice heard and, if you see fit, by making a financial donation to the Coalition for Carolina.

Hark the sound.

Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts Vows to be Fair, Open-Minded and Nonpartisan

Lee Roberts told the Coalition for Carolina last week he will be fair, open-minded and nonpartisan as UNC’s interim chancellor.

In a wide-ranging 75-minute webinar, Roberts also said:

  • It’s “not my perspective” that there is a “liberal bias” at Carolina.
  • The role of UNC Trustees should be “guidance, advice and advocacy.” He emphasized that he reports directly to UNC System President Peter Hans.
  • The controversial new School of Civic Life and Leadership will be a “tremendous asset” to UNC.

More than 200 people watched the webinar live. Dr. Mimi Chapman and Roger Perry, two of our co-founders, moderated and posed questions to Roberts. You can watch the webinar here: LINK

“A respectful exchange of ideas”

In his opening remarks, Roberts said, “By any metric, Carolina is an extremely strong institution, whether you look at enrollment, public support, research funding or the success of our students and alumni. We have a lot of momentum, and I hope that people are proud of that….

“It’s a testament to the vision that we’ve had here in North Carolina and the confidence that everyone in leadership in North Carolina, no matter their political party or their partisan affiliation, have placed in higher education…

“I also think the arguments and debates about the future of Carolina are a good thing. They show how much people care about our university, how deeply they’re invested, how much this university matters to our state and to American higher education.

“We teach our students to value a respectful exchange of ideas. And I think we’re at our best as a university when we embrace that spirit and get everyone talking around the same table.”

During the Q&A, Roberts defended his work as state budget director under Governor Pat McCrory and responded to concerns about his relationship with Art Pope, a prominent conservative and founder of the John Locke Foundation.

Roberts said he is registered as an unaffiliated voter and promised, “I’ll be nonpartisan and open-minded.”

A “liberal bias”?

Chapman asked Roberts to respond to charges that there is a “liberal bias” among faculty members.

He said, “That’s not my perspective. We have talented faculty who work hard every day to educate students on their fields of expertise inside the classroom. Are there certain discussions about political views within certain spaces outside the classroom? Of course, absolutely. That’s where our job as a global university is to ensure that this is a place where all viewpoints can be heard, considered, debated.

“We have a responsibility to our students and to the broader community to share expertise, serve as a forum for debate and consider challenging viewpoints….

“I don’t think we should be afraid of having those conversations, so long as we’re respectful of other people’s opinions and allow a diversity of viewpoints to be heard.”

He said he came to the webinar immediately following a meeting with the Committee on Academic Freedom and Free Speech. The committee, he said, is making recommendations that will be important to the campus.

Role of UNC Trustees

Perry asked Roberts to address our concern that some trustees have interfered improperly in areas such as curriculum development.

Roberts said, “the trustees are an important source of guidance and advice on the overall direction of the university. They’re also important advocates for the university” to the Board of Governors and the General Assembly.

He added, “I report to the system president, Peter Hans, as everybody knows.”

He said, “we have a somewhat complex system,” with the board of trustees, Board of Governors, the system office and the General Assembly, “but my reporting line is clear, to the system president.”

He said he is aware there is “significant anxiety” surrounding governance issues. The proper balance of governance responsibilities “is obviously not perfectly clear every day on every issue and we have to navigate our way through that.”

Roberts said he hasn’t read the report of the Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina.

We encourage him to read it, as the report addresses a number of governance issues and proposes thoughtful recommendations for reform.

School of Civic Life and Leadership

Our coalition believes the creation of this school is a case of trustees’ overreach. Also, faculty members dispute the claim by the trustees’ chair that the school grew out of “six years of faculty planning.” We asked Roberts to respond.

He said the school “is going to be a tremendous asset to the university and, from what I’ve seen, should be a source of pride to Carolina.”

He said, “I’ve spent time with the new dean, Jed Atkins. His academic record is unimpeachable.” Roberts called him “an exciting addition to the Carolina community.”

Roberts added, “if we look around our society, we certainly don’t see a surplus of civility and civil discourse, so I think there’s a significant need” for the school.

“To the extent there are still skeptics out there,” he said, “I urge them to get involved in the work of the school and help build it into something we’ll all be proud of.”

Advocating for Faculty

Asked by Perry about his role in advocating for the faculty and for faculty compensation, Roberts said, “nothing we do is possible without world-class faculty, and we depend on the energy and talent of our researchers and teachers, so we obviously have to stay competitive.”

He added, “faculty salaries are objectively quantifiable, and I look forward to seeing more data on where we stand.”

Perry said faculty compensation was in the top quartile 10-12 years ago “and now it’s at the bottom of the third quartile or even into the fourth quartile…. We do have a strong concern that that’s a major issue.”

Roberts said, “that kind of data is very helpful, very compelling, when it comes to advocacy.”

Other Topics

Values: Asked to describe the values he brings to his position, Roberts responded: “Eagerness to listen and learn. Fair and open-minded. Empathy and humility.”

Priorities: He said he has appointed four working groups to report by August 1 on:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Updating the campus physical master plan
  • Examining applied science offerings, and
  • Assessing the size of enrollment.

Role of research: He said the General Assembly, the Board of Governors and North Carolina’s congressional delegation – and the average North Carolinian – don’t have a full appreciation for the contributions that research at UNC makes to the state. He said he would seek to address that.

Our Reaction

We were gratified that the interim chancellor was willing to engage in a discussion with us, knowing that we have been critical of recent developments on campus.

He chose his words carefully, avoiding any political minefields. His answers obviously will not satisfy all of his critics. But we welcome his openness, and we look forward to continuing a constructive conversation with him about the future of Carolina.

Lee Roberts Webinar and Heather Mac Donald FOIA Emails

Live Webinar: Wednesday, March 20, 2024 at 10:30 am.

Coalition for Carolina co-founders Roger Perry and Mimi Chapman will lead a discussion with UNC Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts. They’ll ask Roberts questions he hasn’t heard in any other interview and Roberts will be asked questions submitted by webinar participants. 

: https://bit.ly/49VCqwi

Heather Mac Donald FOIA Emails Shed New Light on Her Campus Visit

Two outside groups – the UNC Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA) and the Martin Center for Academic Renewal – worked closely with two UNC trustees to bring a reactionary critic of higher education to campus last fall.

During her appearance, Heather Mac Donald claimed that affirmative action had led universities like UNC to admit unqualified and ill-prepared students – an assertion that was immediately challenged by one trustee, the student body president and then-Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

Mac Donald, a prolific writer and speaker and a fellow at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, also said:

  • Universities are “desperate to get their numbers of Black students up, even if doing so imposed a terrible handicap on those students”.
  • Female students “way, way outscore on the trait of neuroticism.”
  • Today’s universities are “irredeemable,” and college enrollments across the country could be cut by 90%.

You can read more about her visit in our November 17 report, “A New Assault on Carolina is Happening” https://coalitionforcarolinafoundation.org/a-new-assault-on-carolina-is-happening/.

Who brought Mac Donald to UNC – and why?

The prime movers were Douglas D. Monroe III, a UNC graduate from Richmond who is past president of AFSA, and Jenna A. Robinson, president of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

They worked closely with UNC Trustee Ramsey White and John Preyer, the Board of Trustees’ current chair.

We know this thanks to emails obtained through a public records request.

In the emails, Monroe, Robinson, White and Preyer repeatedly expressed their admiration for Mac Donald and her views about higher education. Preyer said he was “a big fan.”

Monroe said “she would be a great coach for any classes on rhetoric that Carolina’s new Department of Civil Leadership (sic) might sponsor.”

Neither faculty nor administration were consulted or involved in arranging Mac Donald’s appearance before the Board of Trustees’ external affairs committee in November. The night before, she spoke at a dinner meeting held by AFSA, which has no official connection with UNC

Highlights from the emails:

  • Mac Donald was paid $11,000 each for her appearances before UNC AFSA and before the Jefferson Council at the University of Virginia the next day. Monroe emailed Mac Donald, “Of course, we are covering all expenses, plus the speaker fee for both.” He said expenses would include flights, limo service and hotels (Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill and “most likely” the Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottesville).
  • Monroe, who lives in Richmond and went to UNC and UVA, was instrumental in arranging both visits.
  • Monroe told White, “I doubt there is anyone more knowledgeable about the DEI and Affirmative Action issues at universities nationwide than Heather. Thought you and the other trustees might see her as a valuable resource for ideas and approaches from around the country.”
  • The UNC and UVA groups are part of a national network of Alumni Free Speech Alliance chapters, including at Davidson, Princeton, Yale and Harvard; some 20 chapters in all. See list at https://www.uncafsa.org/.
  • The emails contain critical and dismissive comments about then-Chancellor Guskiewicz, including his announcement last year about expanding free tuition to deserving students. White wrote Monroe on July 10, “Unfortunately, neither the trustees, board of governors, nor the legislature knew of the Chancellor’s free tuition announcement. Our July meeting will be a robust and full discussion, I’m sure.”
  • Monroe wrote White, “I like Kevin but think he and Dean White have some accounting and explaining to do in the coming year.”
  • Monroe praised North Carolina as the “good state that’s effectively banned (via state legislation) DEI and declared for institutional political neutrality.” In another email, he told Mac Donald: “Good stuff happening in NC!:)”
  • He said, “I really think the State of NC can offer a blueprint for other great universities to follow to pursue academic freedom, merit, excellence and justice.”
  • They celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against UNC’s affirmative action program.
  • Jennifer Robinson took aim at UNC’s “Power, Difference, Inequality” requirement in the General Education program. Mac Donald responded: “Classic. A typical seedbed of the lunatic intersectional coalition we are now seeing supporting Hamas.”
  • Monroe described Robinson to White as “a rock star” and called the Martin Center “indispensable.” He said Robinson is on both the UNC and national AFSA boards.

Our Coalition has their attention.

After Mac Donald’s appearance, the group circulated our post (see link above). We criticized her remarks and showed how they are part of a coordinated, nationwide attack on higher education.

White emailed Mac Donald: “You have now seen one of our biggest critics, ‘Coalition for Carolina.’ I’m sure you won’t be surprised their origins are from past Board members with a seat at the table, no longer. Your data-driven approach is respected, and a way forward, in my opinion.”

White wrongly characterized our coalition. We do have former trustees in our membership, and we also have 30,000-plus other members who are concerned alumni, friends and supporters of UNC.

We believe that Mac Donald and this national network of right-wing groups are doing great damage to higher education generally and to UNC especially.

They want to remake UNC in Mac Donald’s model.

They cloak their attacks on diversity under the mantle of “free speech.” That appears to mean free speech for themselves, but no discussion on campus of diversity, equal opportunity and the history of racial prejudice in America.

We strongly support free speech, for everyone, on all sides. We also support the freedom of UNC to govern itself without government overreach and one-sided outside interference.

We reject the elitism and extremism that reactionaries try to force on UNC.

We believe that UNC is great precisely because it has stood throughout its history for fairness and equal opportunity for all.

We will continue to stand up for light and liberty.