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.

Go HEELS!

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.”

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.


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

What Does It Mean to Love Carolina?

By Mimi Chapman

“He loves Carolina.”  “She really loves Carolina.” “Of course, they love Carolina.” Referencing generous alums, trusted advisors, sports coaches, legislators, recent graduates, trustees’ past and present, the “loving Carolina” moniker is applied to so many. Everyone it seems “loves Carolina.”  I don’t doubt it, but such catch phrases are often a kind of code. At this moment in the University’s history when there is so much right, so much still to do, within a governance structure that is fraught, “loving Carolina” is a code worth dissecting.

Having moved across the country years ago, I am not deeply connected to my Texas undergraduate campus. But if someone were to ask me if I loved the place, if I had a meaningful psychological connection to it, I would probably say yes.  I had professors that challenged me, read transformational books, and had important experiences that set me on my professional path. What’s more, I love who I was during my college days enthusiastic and curious about most everything, football games and formals, plays and poetry, studying abroad, new techniques in the darkroom, and chasing the moon down rural country lanes with the top down. That place gave me those memories and so I love it. But I know next to nothing about the day-to-day reality of that campus now, what it takes to run it, what the tensions are among students, faculty, and the administration.  My love is based solely in memory. 

That is not to say all Carolina alums “love Carolina” because of their memories. Some can see their time in Chapel Hill as part of a long-running river that changes the landscape and is changed by that landscape in return. Others devote time and treasure to the place in hopes that they can preserve or return the campus to some former version of itself.  Others “love Carolina” because it is struggling with hard historical questions and working to live up to ideals of equity and inclusion. Some “love Carolina” for more specific reasons. UNC Health Care saved life or limb. A campus discovery or innovation added value to their business. Maybe their community was helped by the incredible state-wide work in which many of our schools engage. Perhaps they’ve become used to having their favorite artists – Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Joshua Bell, or Yo Yo Ma – routinely show up at Carolina Performing Arts. Faculty love Carolina’s “low stone walls” culture that leads to robust cross disciplinarity, committed students, prize winning colleagues.  In some ways, we all love Carolina, but, perhaps we love different Carolinas and not all loves have room for everything that happens on our campus.  

When I go beyond the “loving Carolina” code, I believe that I am being told to trust people who “love Carolina” without question. “Loving Carolina” protects people from critique whether their decision-making is transparent or opaque, deceptive, or straight-forward, wise or misguided. But in a culture of diverse interests and conflicting values, trust based on handshakes and coded language is failing. It’s time to look under the hood.  A love for a winning sports team may be rooted in values like loyalty and submitting one’s desires for the good of the team. A love for a faculty fellowship program may be more about scholarship that thrives through autonomy and solitude. Gratitude, second chances, repaying a priceless debt characterizes a Carolina love rooted in care at UNC Hospitals. Some students love the Carolina of the blue cup and others love the fight for justice. There are Carolina parents who are astounded by the opportunities that come to their children who choose this campus. Some, like me, love all of it and others only part.

This Valentine’s day it’s time to go beyond the platitudes and the coded language. Let’s show that we love Carolina by being honest with ourselves and others about what we value about this place. And let’s talk about it. Such a dialogue could provide an opportunity to bring our governing boards, faculty, staff, students, and administration into more productive dialogue and alignment. 

Don’t Get Fooled By “Critical Theory And Indoctrination” Propaganda

Critical Race Theory, CRT, Critical Theory or whatever they are calling it these days, is not being taught in NC public schools.  North Carolina public universities are not being used for liberal indoctrination, socialist indoctrination, woke indoctrination, or any of the other scary indoctrinations some people are trying to get North Carolinians and Americans to believe is happening.  What is being done is propagandists, and people with ideological agendas, are using these terms to divide Americans in order to pave the way to power, censorship, and control over our current freedoms. 

Those driving the division cherry pick examples in order to convince readers, and listeners, that scary “indoctrinating” and “critical” teachings are real.  Two of these scare pieces were recently sent to us.  (We will not link to them so as not to further spread the “alternative facts” and misinformation.)  One of the pieces uses examples from UVA to try and make their case.  The other is written by someone who scoured the course list of NC universities to find courses that deal with race and/or diversity.  They then categorized these courses as being related to, what they call, “critical theory”.   The writer concludes with their real goal; “more control” is needed to stop these courses from “indoctrinating”.  

We’re seeing what “more control” looks like with books being banned, Pulitzer Prize winning professors being denied tenure, and other authoritarian type laws and actions being implemented. Don’t fall for the deception.  The propagandist vision for America is the antithesis of American democracy. 

What should Americans and North Carolinians believe?  The facts.  They speak for themselves.  We asked former UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp about such indoctrination scare tactics and he gave a very thoughtful, fact-driven common-sense response.  Check out his remarks in the accompanying video.


Coalition for Carolina: Some say that schools like UNC-CH churn out liberals, is that true?

Former Chancellor Thorp: Well, I used to always say about this, if the goal of the University was to get more Liberals in the world, they’re doing a pretty lousy job because North Carolina is a conservative state, and it’s probably the case that the alumni are more conservative than Liberal by pretty wide margin. And so to think that because College professors tend to be more Liberal than the alumni, that that is creating some kind of change in the ideology of the graduates. There’s no data that support that. And we have plenty of professions that lean one way or the other. I mean, airline pilots tend to be pretty conservative. I don’t get on a flight and say, ‘Hi, I don’t want you to fly my plane because you don’t agree with me about politics.’ So why do people say that about their College Professor? If more Liberals want to be College professors, then why is that any different from airline pilots or professional golf or lots of other professions that go to one side or the other?

What I think would be better would be to acknowledge the fact that there’s this difference and have an open and honest discussion about it. I’m not a fan of College presidents, for example, feeling like they have to look like they’re in agreement with both sides. That doesn’t help anyone. And for example, when you have controversial speakers, one of the things that happens is because the President might be trying to hide their politics and not wanting to upset their conservative stakeholders. They’re afraid to come out and say, Well, I disagree with this speaker because they don’t want to make their political constituents upset. So then the students and faculty correctly don’t trust them when if something happens, they say, Well, I didn’t agree with this person, but I thought the University should be a place where they could give their talk. Well, that all happens after the fact. Why not say at the beginning what this is? There’s a great example of this. When Ahmadinejad gave a talk at Columbia, there was a huge controversy. And the President of the University said, I’ll tell you what, I’ll do the intro. And he got up and did the intro and said, I’m introducing this person who I think is a petty dictator.

And he said a bunch of other terrible stuff about him. But the guy gave his talk. It turned out to be bad. I mean, he was out of power very shortly thereafter. It was bad for him, good for the world. And it’s too bad we can’t achieve that more. But a lot of it comes down to the administrators trying to code switch between the board meeting and the faculty Council meeting rather than just being honest about their views with everybody.


Visit our YouTube channel for more of our conversation with former Chancellor Thorp.

The Case for Restructuring the Governance of North Carolina Higher Education

Dr. Moeser makes a compelling case for restructuring UNC System governance. In this well-researched piece, he explores the history of governance actions that concern him and calls for change. Specific areas of concern listed are:

  • The elimination of campus-based tuition increases, the fuel for faculty salaries;
  • The cap on tuition funds allocated to need-based aid, placing great stress on the Carolina Covernant;
  • 2015.  Closure of the Law School’s Center for Poverty, Work, and Opportunity;
  • 2016  The firing of President Thomas Ross;
  • 2016  The removal of the Governor’s power to appoint 4 of 13 Trustees;
  • 2017  Stripping the Law School’s Center for Civil Rights ability to engage in litigation;
  • 2020-22  The BOT has not respected Chapel Hill’s strong tradition of shared governance with the faculty.  Recent examples of this     include the obvious reluctance of the BOT to grant tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, despite a strong recommendation from a faculty committee.; The BOT amended the process to allow board members and others to nominate Distinguished Alumnus and Alumna Award, a process that had traditionally been a faculty prerogative. 
  • The BOG expanded the powers of the system president in the selection of campus chancellors.  Under the new policy, the system president can add two candidates to a chancellor search, one of whom must be a finalist for the position, essentially allowing the system president to hand-pick a chancellor. 
  • The General Assembly, without consulting the BOG, included in the state budget provision to move the system headquarters to Raleigh, allowing for the merger of the UNC System and the Community College System

Dr. Moeser concludes by saying; “Governing boards exist to set policy for the institutions in their charge and to select senior administrators with carrying out those policies, not in running the day-to-day activities of the institution.  These boards need to respect the culture and traditions of the universities they govern, including the concept of shared governance with the faculty.”

Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser

January 21, 2022

I rise today to make the argument that it is time for the restructuring of North Carolina’s governance of higher education.  I want to establish first that political interference in the life of the university has always been an issue.  However, this interference has recently taken on a much more troubling aspect of partisanship and ideology.

 As I prepared for this paper, I re-read two important books that tell us how we got to this point.  The first book is Light on the Hill by William Snider.  It is a history of UNC from its founding in the 18th century to the 1980’s.  The second book that I reviewed was William Link’s excellent biography of President William Friday, which received the 1995 Mayflower Cup for non-fiction.  Both are publications of the UNC Press. 

 As I thought further about this subject, I was struck by a statement by Link in his preface that a major priority for President Friday was the protection of the University from political interference, citing the inclination of the North Carolina political power structure toward intervention and politicization of higher education.[1]

            Going back to the origins of the UNC System, it was during the Frank Porter Graham administration that UNC expanded to become a consolidated university.  The move to consolidate the state’s three principal universities, the university at Chapel Hill, the North Carolina State College of Engineering and Agriculture, and the North Carolina College for Women (Women’s College), was inspired by the Crash of 1929 and the need to reduce state spending.  Without any input from the three institutions, Gov. Max Gardner announced that he would recommend consolidation to the General Assembly in 1931.  

            At first Graham and his colleagues in Chapel Hill opposed this move.  The other two institutions  were less well established and largely vocationally or technically oriented.[2]  However, as the state’s dire financial circumstances became clear, the handwriting was on the wall, and the institutions were consolidated.  The UNC Board of Trustees chose Graham as the president of the consolidated university.  Graham chose leaders for the other two institutions in Raleigh and Greensboro, respectively, but he continued to operate out of South Building in Chapel Hill.  He bent over backward to be fair to the other institutions.  He was both the president of the Consolidated University, and the university in Chapel Hill, a practice Mr. Friday continued when he became president.

            The General Assembly determined that the consolidated University of North Carolina would be governed by a 100-member Board of Trustees, just as the university had been governed before consolidation.  The trustees were elected by the General Assembly, and they were a picture of the white and mostly male establishment in North Carolina.

Greensboro welcomed the association with the university, but Raleigh chafed under it.  A major issue of contention was the fact that both universities had engineering schools, with the superior one in Chapel Hill, although the legislation creating the consolidation stipulated the “a unit of the university shall be located at Raleigh and shall be known as Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering of the University of North Carolina.”[3] Graham ultimately solved this problem by moving engineering to Raleigh.  Other transfers were made between institutions with the goal of eliminating duplication.  

Frank Porter Graham resigned the UNC presidency in 1949, having been appointed to the U. S. Senate by Gov. Kerr Scott upon the death of the incumbent senator.  He was succeeded in the presidency by Gordon Gray, former Secretary of the Army.  Gray had an undistinguished five-year term as president (1950-55).  One of Gray’s best decisions was the appointment of young lawyer as his executive assistant, William Clyde Friday.  

Friday had thought that he would be going to Washington with Senator Graham, “but three days before Graham left for his new job, as Friday later told the story, “we stood together at the Old Well.  He [Graham] put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘it’s better you stay here.’”[4]  Five years later, through an interesting twist of fate, William Friday was the UNC president, a post he would hold for the next 30 years (1956-86).

            It was during the Friday administration that the University of North Carolina system became what it is today.  But it was not an easy evolution.  The administrative structure of the consolidated university was essentially unchanged from 1931 until 1969 when, through legislative action, three institutions were added to the University: the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, each with its own chancellor, reporting to the UNC president. 

            “The expansion of the three-campus consolidated university to a six-campus UNC system in the 1960’s profoundly altered the balance of power in higher education in North Carolina.  Friday remained skeptical of expansion generally and dubious, at best, about UNC expansion to Wilmington and Asheville. He characterized this decision as ‘a mistake’ made because of irresistible political pressure.”[5]

            But the biggest political fight of all was yet to happen.  Enter Governor Bob Scott, who served as Governor of North Carolina from 1969-1973, and characterized by Link as “impetuous.”[6] Scott was a graduate of N. C. State, who became “highly critical of what he considered the stronghold of elitist power at Chapel Hill.”[7]  These two titans – the governor and the university president – would engage in a long-term political battle over the future of higher education in North Carolina. 

            Gov. Scott, who had previously served as regional chairman of the Southern Regional Education Board and a member of the Educational Commission of the States, was intensely interested in higher education.  He persuaded the legislature to reconstitute the State Board of Education with leaders of the General Assembly as members[8] and the governor as chair.          

            All of this was done without any knowledge of it by Bill Friday or anyone at UNC.  President Friday only learned of it in a conversation with a legislator.  He was deeply concerned about the politicization of higher education and the direct intervention of the Governor and legislature.  The trustees were adamantly opposed to these moves, which they regarded as an infringement on their governing prerogative.  

            There followed months of back and forth negotiating and posturing by both sides – Friday and the trustees on one side, and Governor Scott and key members of the General Assembly on the other.  This struggle went on for over a year.  At one point, Gov. Scott threatened the university’s appropriation in retaliation for opposing his restructuring plans.  It became very heated and acrimonious.  

            After months of political fighting, “an expanded multi-campus system that would embrace all sixteen senior institutions in the state and a single governing board that would supersede both the State Board of Higher Education and the UNC Board of Trustees all became law on October 1971.”[9]

            With minor changes, this is essentially today’s UNC System, with 17 constituent institutions and a 24-member Board of Governors.  “It is a testament to Friday’s political abilities that most people now regard the system, essentially thrust on him, as his own creation.  But Friday nonetheless succeeded in later transforming a political defeat into an administrative victory by fashioning a system that bore the direct imprint of his personality and managerial style.”[10]  My entire purpose in relating this complex history of the UNC System is to establish the fact that political interference in the University of North Carolina has been a constant throughout its history.

            I arrived in North Carolina in 2000 to become the ninth Chancellor of UNC Chapel Hill.  I was appointed by President Molly Broad, who had come to the UNC System from the California State University System where she was Executive Vice Chancellor.  She was not only the first female president, but the first non-North Carolinian to be president.  Molly would not allow anyone to utter the S-word (system), insisting that she was the President of The University of North Carolina.  (She was technically correct about that; it was one of the legacies of Bill Friday.)  The public confusion over the name once prompted Dean Smith to try to get legislation passed that would have restored Chapel Hill’s traditional name and clarified the name of the system. 

            The first point of tension between UNC Chapel Hill and the system president and BOG occurred at the beginning of my third year, 2002.  In the wake of nine-eleven, the faculty committee charged with suggesting the book for the First Year Reading Program suggested Michael Sells’ book on the Qu’ran.  I thought this was an entirely appropriate idea, not imagining that the choice of this book would lead to national controversy.  The Fox News Channel picked up this story and began to fan the flames of the right-wing metaverse.  Ultimately, we were sued by the Faculty Policy Network, charging that we were indoctrinating students in Islam.  President Broad provided no support for me in this crisis, and the Board of Governors failed to pass a resolution supporting academic freedom.  

Tensions also grew between the campus and the system over the issue of control of Federal overhead receipts (facilities and administration costs). For years, the state and/or the university system had been reducing our state appropriation by a percentage (up to 25%) of our federal F&A receipts, with the mistaken view that the campus was adequately compensated for its conduct of research, and these federal funds constituted “double dipping.” (This, of course, reflects a total misunderstanding of the inadequacy of the federal F&A rate, which needs no discussion here.)

I helped our Board of Trustees understand how critical to the advancement of the university’s research agenda it was to reverse this practice. We had an urgent case in the construction of the science complex, where a portion of the first phase was going to be shelled-in without additional resources. We needed to build out the shelled space in to retain a key faculty member who was being heavily recruited by several other universities, but we had not yet raised the private funds necessary to finish the shelled space.  We devised a plan to finish the space by using anticipated F&A funds to back-stop private support that we were hoping to raise.  But that plan would fail, if the state, in effect, took part of our F&A away.

Our board mobilized and formed a political action committee, which in a short period of time became one of the most powerful political lobbies in North Carolina, the second largest political action group in the state.  The PAC quickly made a legislator’s position on F&A retention as the proxy for being a friend of Chapel Hill and thus meriting the PAC’s support. Gradually, the climate on our retention of F&A receipts began to change. 

Molly Broad and the BOG hated the PAC for its very success in supporting the research mission of UNC-Chapel Hill.  The News and Observer editorialized against it, but it had the complete support of the Board of Trustees and the leadership of the General Alumni Association, which was militantly opposed to the system’s theft of our name.  The PAC was strictly bi-partisan, supporting both Democrats and Republicans who were supportive of UNC-Chapel Hill’s objectives.

If there was a single thread that ran through all my public presentations during my tenure, it was the importance of faculty salaries. We made faculty support the number one priority of the Carolina First Campaign, creating 225 endowed professorships. It was also the centerpiece of our legislative efforts as well. I convinced the Board of Trustees of the importance of recruiting and retaining the best faculty as the centerpiece of all we were attempting to do. They got it. The PAC got it, and they were enormously helpful. Once we won the F&A battle, faculty salaries became the issue.

I used to say that we wanted to have a faculty that the University of Chicago also wanted. The trouble is that the University of Chicago (and their several wealthy peers) came calling. In 2003, we discovered that we were losing two out of three contested counter-offers. This was a clear path to mediocrity. It was a crisis. We were at a difficult time in terms of state support, with several years of little or no increases in faculty compensation.

North Carolina has a long tradition of low tuition coupled with generous state support. When that support went into decline, however, it was critical that we turn to tuition as a funding source for faculty salaries. (This was one of the few areas where Mr. Friday and I disagreed.  He was a strong proponent of low tuition, while I argued that low tuition was essentially socially regressive, subsidizing the costs of higher education for wealthy (mostly white) families.  I advocated higher tuition and a strong need-based financial aid program.)  We succeeded in getting authorization from the legislature to increase tuition and to keep those funds on campus for faculty support and need-based student aid. Simultaneously, we created the Carolina Covenant program, which guaranteed all students at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, a debt-free graduation. This program became a national model.

Even with these safeguards in place, I still had major battles with the system Board of Governors, which had little sympathy for the plight of its flagship research campus and no understanding of the competitive environment for research universities. Once again, the PAC came to our rescue, convincing the legislature to overrule the BOG. Perhaps my most telling argument to them was the fact that UNC faculty across the university averaged $211,000 in external funding, while the average salary was about $165,000. Talk about a return on investment, this was it!

Three years later, as a result of salary increases funded largely from tuition sources, we had reversed the negative trend, winning two out of every three contested retentions. By the time I left office, after two very good years of state appropriations, UNC’s faculty salaries, by rank, were higher than either Michigan or Virginia, and only slightly behind UC Berkeley and UCLA, our four major national peers. This was a key part of our overall strategy, and I am convinced our success with faculty compensation was directly related to the significant run-up of external research funding that continues to this day.

Molly Broad was followed in the system presidency by Erskine Bowles, with whom I had a fabulous relationship.  Erskine said publicly that the chancellors should run the universities, and his job was to fire them if they didn’t do it well.  I spent my last three years in office as a very happy and contented chancellor.  (Erskine was still sensitive to the use of the word system.  He would allow it, but only if was a lower=case S.)  It was President Margaret Spellings who changed the name of UNC General Administration to the UNC System Office.

All the time that I served as Chancellor, the Democratic Party continued to control both houses of the General Assembly, and they continued to elect both Democrats and Republicans to the Board of Governors.  I recall being more concerned about a BOG member’s being a booster of one of the universities or a region of the state than their party affiliation.  Most of the time the interests of Chapel Hill and NC State, the system’s two R1 universities, were aligned, and I enjoyed very good relationships with both chancellors Marye Ann Fox and Jim Oblinger.  I used to meet at least once a month with each.    

I also established strong personal relationships with Marc Basnight, the president pro tempore of the NC Senate, and Tony Rand, the Senate majority leader.  They became champions of Chapel Hill’s research agenda.  We have Marc Basnight to thank for the UNC Cancer Hospital and an annual appropriation of $50 Million for cancer research, which has been fuel for a huge run-up in federal research funding.  I left office in July of 2008, and the next Chancellor, Holden Thorp, had to deal with the economic crash of 2008, among other issues.  However, major changes were about to break on the political front.  

Since 1900 when Blacks were disenfranchised and Democrats destroyed a long-standing bi-racial alliance in the state’s Republican Party, North Carolina, like much of the South, became a one-party state.  The Democratic Party had near-uncontested control of state government well into the civil rights era.  While it is true that we elected Republican governors in 1972 (Jim Holshouser) and 1984 (Jim Martin), the breakthrough year for the GOP was 2010 when they captured both houses of the General Assembly and allowed them to re-district (and gerrymander) the state based on the 2010 census.  North Carolina was part of a national effort by Republicans to turn legislatures of key swing states and the U. S. House of Representatives. 

 After 2010, the Republican majority began using a partisan lens to screen candidates for the BOG. The U. S. economy was in general recession after the crash of 2009, and the Republicans wasted little time in cutting taxes.  Understandably, they also put a stop to tuition increases.  In 2012 North Carolina elected Pat McCrory as governor, solidifying Republican control of state government, with an announced agenda of cutting taxes

Slowly but surely, the Board of Governors began to chisel away at various UNC programs and initiatives that the right wing hated.  In 2014, they established a cap on the percentage of tuition funds that could be allocated to student financial aid, but they also eliminated campus-based tuition increases altogether, determined to keep tuition low.  Thus, they killed two programs they didn’t like – funding for need-based student financial aid, and a source of funds for faculty compensation.  

The former had a devasting effect on the financial aid budget.  According to Shirley Ort, the former Associate Provost and Director of Student Financial Aid, in the four years prior to 2014, the university received a cumulative total of $34.6 million in funding provided by the tuition set-aside policy, all dedicated to need-based aid.  The is the equivalent of a 5% payout on a $692 million endowment.  In her view (and mine), there is no way to secure the same level of accessibility and affordability no matter how effective we may be in fund-raising.  

In 2015, the BOG shut down the UNC Law School’s Center for Poverty Work, and Opportunity headed by former dean Gene Nichol.  Nichol was a thorn in the side of the Republican Party because of his blistering News and Observercolumns.  He is an outspoken liberal firebrand, who continues to this day to advocate for the poor and oppressed.    

Also in 2016, the BOG fired Tom Ross, who in 2011 succeeded Erskine Bowles as system president.  From my perspective, Ross was a judicious and very effective system president. In 2013-14, I had an opportunity to work directly with him when he asked me to serve as Interim Chancellor of the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem.  In my opinion, the firing of Tom Ross was an example of naked partisan politics.  

In the fall of 2016, Roy Cooper, a Democrat, was elected governor.  Whereas the General Assembly elected all the members of the BOG, according to the 1971 law, the governor appointed four of the thirteen campus trustees.  Immediately, the General Assembly stripped the Governor of his authority to appoint campus trustees (among several actions to limit his powers).  By this action, the NCGA essentially transferred the appointing authority from the Governor to the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House.

In 2016, the BOG elected Margaret Spellings as system president.  Spellings had been George W. Bush’s Secretary of Education and was the chair of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, commonly known as the Spellings Commission.  Spellings was given a five-year contract, but she resigned and went back to Texas after three years.  Notwithstanding the initial controversy over her appointment, I found her to be a good system president.  I think she left because of the increasingly raw politics on the BOG and in the General Assembly.  

In 2017, the BOG, by a vote of 24-3, stripped the UNC Law School’s Center for Civil Rights of its ability to engage in litigation.  I was present at this meeting and was disappointed that President Spellings was completely silent throughout the meeting.   

That brings us to the present time.  After a brief interim presidency by William Roper, former CEO of UNC Health, the BOG appointed Peter Hans as system president in 2020.  Hans, who was Phil Berger’s choice in 2016 when the BOG selected Spellings, is a Republican, who has a track record of support from powerful Democrats as well as Republicans.  A recent Assembly profile of Hans compared him to Bill Friday.[11]  I will reserve judgment on that assessment.  

 Hans has been on both of North Carolina’s two governing boards for higher education.  The N.C. House of Representatives elected him to a six-year term on the State Board of Community Colleges in 1997.  The N.C. Senate elected him to the UNC System Board of Governors in 2003, 2007, (the Senate was still under Democratic Party control) and 2011, and he chaired the BOG from 2012 to 2014.  It is hard to determine what role Peter Hans will play in setting system policy, but some troubling signs are already appearing.    

          UNC-Chapel Hill has a strong tradition of shared governance with the faculty. Recent actions by the BOT have caused new tensions between the trustees and the faculty.  These tensions boiled to the surface in the obvious reluctance of the Trustees to act on the faculty’s recommendation of tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones.  In another case, the BOT also amended the nomination policy for Distinguished Alumna and Alumnus Awards to allow board members and other members of the campus community to make nominations, a process which had traditionally been a prerogative of the faculty. Many faculty feel disrespected by the BOT.   

In another assault on shared governance, recently, the BOG voted to expand the powers of the system president in the selection of chancellors for the 17 constituent institutions. Under this new policy, the system president can add two contenders in a chancellor search, at least one of whom must become a finalist, allowing the system president to hand-pick a campus chancellor.

Another troubling sign is the fact that the General Assembly, without consulting even with the Board of Governors, included in the state budget a provision to move the UNC system headquarters to a government building in Raleigh, allowing for the merger of the two systems of higher education in North Carolina under Peter Hans.[12]

Clearly, something is going on when Art Pope, one of the best-connected Republicans in North Carolina, complains that no one on the BOG knew this was afoot.  The co-location of the system headquarters in Chapel Hill has long fueled the feeling that UNC-Chapel Hill was somehow advantaged by this, while on the campus the view was that this co-location was a distinct disadvantage for Carolina.  But the larger question of the merger of the university system with the community college system is a major issue that requires careful thought and consideration.  

The appointment of Peter Hans, the previous CEO of the Community College System and a former member of that board, and the secretive way the state budget included a move of the UNC System office to Raleigh to a yet-not constructed government building, suggests an agenda that is not in the best interests of either system.  

On November 8, 2018, I outlined my concerns to newly elected Governor Roy Cooper, advocating the appointment a bi-partisan commission to study the governance of public university systems in the United States and to make recommendations for the restructuring of governance in North Carolina.  I urged the Governor to appoint people of substance from all sectors of the state, people whose collective reputations would add weight to any recommendations the commission might make.  

I also advocated for the commission to consult with the major national organizations that represent major institutions of higher education in the U. S. – the American Council of Education (ACE), the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), and the Association of Governing Boards (AGB). 

Governing boards exist to set policy for their institutions and to select the senior administrators charged with carrying out the policies that the boards have established, not in running the day-to-day operations of institutions.  These boards need to respect the culture and traditions of the universities they govern, including the concept of shared governance with the faculty.

There is an apocryphal story about Dwight D. Eisenhower. When he became president of Columbia University, he addressed the faculty saying that he was happy to be able to talk to the employees of the university.  To which a faculty member responded, “Mr. President, we are not employees.  We are the University.”

We need boards that understand this truth – boards that are non-political and, at least, bi-partisan.  That is what North Carolina needs.  That is what we deserve.  


[1] William A. Link.  William Friday:  Power, Purpose, and American Higher Education.  Chapel Hill, UNC Press, p.xiv.

[2] Ibid., p. 212

[3] Ibid., p. 215

[4] Ibid., p. 254

[5] Link, p. 169

[6] Ibid., p. 170

[7] Snider, p. 288

[8] Link, p. 170

[9] Ibid., p. 185

[10] Ibid., p. 185

[11] https://www.theassemblync.com/long-form/uncs-mild-mannered-change-agent/

[12] https://www.theassemblync.com/short-form/tensions-rise-within-the-unc-system-board-of-governors/

A Conversation With Former Chancellor Thorp

Continuing our commitment to the University’s promise of Lux Libertas—light and liberty—and the principles of open inquiry, free speech, equity and inclusion, we’re conducting video conversations with diverse members of the Carolina community. 

The first of these video conversations is with former UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp who candidly shared his thoughts on a range of issues. Below is a video and transcript from part of that conversation.

Coalition for Carolina: What should concerned people do about governance of UNC Chapel Hill?

Former Chancellor Thorp: Well, it’s really hard to know what to do now because on the one hand, a lot of the things that are happening are outrageous. On the other hand, you’ve got to try to preserve all the excellence and important things that are already there. But in my opinion, it’s reached a pretty difficult point, a point at which strong action is required. So the first thing would be to try to say out loud that this political interference is occurring. And I think one of the things that has been painful with everything that’s happened at UNC has been, for example, in the Nicole Hannah Jones case, where it’s not in dispute that the board, the chair of the University Affairs Committee, asked the Provost to remove the case from the agenda. That never happened in any of the time that I was there. That is a major event, and then tried to pretend like it was no big deal and that isn’t correct, and then also tried to pretend that it wasn’t about politics. Well, neither of these things are true. So if you want to have a debate about how to do this, you got to at least start with an objective set of facts. And what mystifies me is why these members of the governing board, who many of whom I know, wouldn’t just come out and say, yeah, that’s what they did. It seems like their political friends would think that was a good thing. So I don’t understand the subterfuge just try to get all this stuff out in the open. It’s the same thing in Florida. They won’t come out and say, yeah, we’re doing all this because this is what the governor has told us we had to do. If we could at least get that out in the open, we could start dealing with it. But the subterfuge that these folks are being allowed to get away with, basically with plausible deniability is really exacerbating the situation. We need to have an open discussion about what it means to be a public University in a Republican state. 

Coalition for Carolina: What do you think of the, alleged, pressure on the chancellor during the provost search?

Former Chancellor Thorp: The Provost search that just happened, Chris Clemens, may well have been the best candidate. I don’t know who the other two were, but it’s clear from statements that were made that are unattributed to excellent journalists that the board members were only going to consider someone who they agreed with politically. Well, if that’s true, why not save everybody a bunch of time and just tell everybody that that’s what’s going on? I don’t think that would be good, but at least we’d be dealing with a set of facts that are out in the open rather than having people say these kinds of things without attribution to journalists. 

Coalition for Carolina: What advice do you have for UNC-CH faculty and staff during these challenging times?

Former Chancellor Thorp: Well, so we’re talking about the faculty and staff, so a lot of the faculty should be in a position where they can talk pretty openly about this. I think the worry is that if they do that, something even worse might be done to the University. But at this point, how much worse could there be? I guess you have to decide if you reach the point where there’s not much left to lose, and I guess that depends on your point of view. But I think that not allowing the plausible deniability model to [continue] [when] there are lots of people who have knowledge that could be used to stop [it]…. would be a good first step in trying to move on. 


Visit our YouTube channel for more of our conversation with former Chancellor Thorp.