While politics have been a factor in university governance in the past, the level of overreach UNC is experiencing is unprecedented. We asked Former Chancellor Holden Thorp, Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser, and SACSCOC President Belle Wheelan to share their perspectives on how politics in university governance has changed over time. Check out their responses about politics in the accompanying videos. The Coalition will examine the impact current unprecedented governance overreach in future posts.
Coalition for Carolina: How are politics impacting higher education governance around the country?
Dr. Holden Thorp: Well, we have a whole lot of incidents around the country of boards becoming more intrusive into higher education. And, mostly it relates to how conservative politics would prefer to see higher education carry out their work. And, this really comes down to the fact that there has been, over the last about 50 years or so, an effort by the political right to change facts when they need to change them to suit their political goals.
Coalition for Carolina: How did university governance work in the past?
Dr. James Moeser: I was thinking back about my time when I was chancellor from 2000 to 2008 and one of the things I realized is that I never knew quite exactly what particular party a particular board member subscribed to, or whether he or she was a member of a party. I remember once a conversation with one of my best board chairs, Tim Burnett. And, I said to him, “Tim I thought you were a Republican.” He said,” whatever gave you that idea? I’m not a Republican.” I’m not sure exactly what Tim’s party affiliation was, if he had one, but, the point is that with both trustees and Board of Governors members, I was more concerned about their affiliation with an institution or a region of the state…. I was never concerned about their political affiliation. That is to say that governance in North Carolina was essentially nonpartisan. And now today it’s very partisan and very political and that’s a corruption, in my view. And, I think it’s something we are determined to change.
Coalition for Carolina: How have politics and university governance changed over time?
Dr. Belle Wheelan: It is true that for years our boards have been political whether the Democrats were in charge or the Republicans were in charge. It just appears that of recent, not just at UNC, but all across the country, there is a shift in the ideology of board members of what should be done, and what shouldn’t be done at that then puts them on the other side, if you will, of what the administration may propose. And, so you end up with policies that look very different than what we are accustomed to seeing because there is a change in philosophy.
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