|Higher Ed Works has published a great post about Governor Cooper’s newly established commission on governance. We asked, and received, their permission to re-publish the entire post below.|
|RALEIGH (December 1, 2022) – Two former Presidents of the UNC System who will lead a commission to assess the System’s governing structure say the panel will examine models across the country and try to better define the roles of board members.|
“It’s a good time to stop, look and listen to how things are organized,” said Margaret Spellings, a Republican who was the System’s president from 2016-19. “As I like to say, we need to be organized for success. It’s a good time to take stock.”
In North Carolina and across the country, she said, governments are attempting to calibrate the proper balance between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
Tom Ross, a Democrat who served as UNC System President from 2011-16, will co-chair the commission with Spellings. In a joint interview with Higher Ed Works, Ross said the group will examine how state universities are governed across the country – and there are lots of models( 1).
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced creation of the commission Nov. 1 and the members of the commission last week (3).
Ross called the members “a really high-level group of people.” He said he is encouraged “that it’s a bipartisan commission that the governor appointed … this ought to be a bipartisan issue.”
Spellings said one of the commission’s aims will be a governance structure that lasts through shifts in political power “to protect this mighty engine of North Carolina.”
Currently, all 24 members of the UNC Board of Governors are appointed by the NC General Assembly. And the Board of Trustees at each of the UNC System’s 17 campuses are appointed by the General Assembly and the Board of Governors. The Republican-led legislature removed the governor’s power to appoint campus trustees after Cooper was elected governor in 2016.
Since Cooper announced creation of the commission in an executive order, many have questioned whether legislators will pay heed to the commission’s recommendations.
“We’ll make the case – we’re going to learn a lot through this process,” said Spellings.
“If we can make recommendations to make the System as strong as it can be, we’ll do that,” said Ross.
Both political parties have always been interested in improving the state’s economy, Ross said.
Given projections of a shrinking supply of traditional high-school graduates and demands of an increasingly technological economy, “It’s going to be a tighter and tighter market and it’s going to demand higher and higher levels of education,” he said.
Ross and Spellings noted the appointments of House Majority Leader John Bell and Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, to the commission. Former Rep. John Fraley, R-Iredell, is now a member of the Board of Governors and is also among the members.
Bell told WRAL News last week that any shift in appointment powers to the governor is likely to be rejected by legislators.
But “if this is about putting politics aside and improving higher education in North Carolina, I’m always willing to listen and have an honest discussion about how we can move our state forward,” he said (4).
Spellings noted that Cooper made it clear that any changes in appointment powers recommended by the commission should take effect after he steps down in early 2025.
The goal is “not a power grab by an individual,” she said.
Some – including members of the Board of Governors – have raised questions about whether the Board has the proper demographic and geographic representation. Others have questioned the appointment of several lobbyists, given that their livelihood depends on state legislators.
In recent years, one or more BOG members have themselves sought university chancellorships. Two trustees at one university tried to intervene in and influence a student government election. Others have tried to influence university hiring and contract decisions.
Ross said one thing the commission will try to define is, “What is the appropriate role of governing bodies? What are their responsibilities versus those of administrators?
“We need to be clear about who has what responsibilities,” he said.
Others say the governing boards have become overly political. Though politics has always been a part of board appointments, Ross said, “Are there ways we can minimize the political influence in the University?”
Spellings said board members also need to understand and respect shared governance between the faculty and administrators, which can affect whether universities remain accredited.
The University is competing with other states for students, faculty and staff.
“We need the players to play their right and proper role and understand what that is,” Spellings said. “It’s easy to stay in your lane if you know what your lane is.”
Ross said many appointees to university boards have experience in business, but not necessarily in higher-education governance. “Part of it is education,” he said. “That’s true of any board you join, whether it’s higher education or a corporate board.”
Board members also need to show self-discipline, Ross said. “If a board member gets out of line, I think it’s incumbent on the other board members to step up and say, ‘That’s out of line,’” he said. “And I think they can do that.”
1. In particular, Ross referenced extensive research by the NC Center for Public Policy Research: https://nccppr.org/wp-content/uploads/research_reports/THE_STATE_WIDE_UNC_BOARD_OF_GOVERNORS.pdf.
|Other Must-Read News:|
As we consider the task that the newly appointed governance commission has before it, it is worth revisiting a September 2021 Daily Tarheel article where they describe how UNC System governance has changed. Their news article is entitled; “Breaking down the power structure and history of the UNC Board of Trustees”. It is very well done and gives insight into the challenge that the commission faces. It also provides examples of some of the governance related problems that Carolina is experiencing. Our very own Dr. Mimi Chapman is quoted in this excellent post and reading it will remind you of why the Coalition for Carolina came to be.
Click the link below for a link to the Daily Tarheel Piece:
Dr. Mimi Chapman is also quoted in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece entitled; “The Apolitical University”. This article asks; “Should institutions remain neutral on controversial issues? Is that even possible?” The author, Adrienne Lu, starts out with a description of how Carolina’s Dr. Barbara K. Rimer posted a statement in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and received an immediate response from some who felt that her statement crossed a line. The author goes on to explore how speech is being handled on campuses and describes how many campuses have embraced the Kalven Report. Dr Chapman expresses her desire that adoption of the Kalven Report at Carolina will not be just “a mechanism … for muzzling administrators but rather a mechanism for allowing faculty to bring their expertise, knowledge, and practice on the issues of the day to the public square.”
Read the full Chronicle of Higher Education article by clicking the link below: