For much of the last century, Democrats controlled North Carolina.
Since 2010, however, voters bestowed that power on Republicans, who have appointed conservatives like me to govern the UNC system.
Democrats have made political hay from bashing our leadership. Look beyond the bad-mouthing, though, and you’ll see what’s motivating them: They’re not in charge any more, and it’s killing them.
Consider Roger Perry, a UNC Chapel Hill trustee from 2003 to 2011 and board chairman from 2007 to 2009. It’s clear that Perry desperately wants his party in power again. That’s why he founded ― and is funding ― the Coalition for Carolina, which claims to be a “nonpartisan” network of university supporters concerned about “partisan interference” by trustees.
While it’s unclear exactly how much money Perry and his comrades have spent on the coalition to date, it might as well be an arm of the N.C. Democratic Party. Case in point: It was set up by the same attorneys who established N.C. Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Josh Stein’s campaign infrastructure. And if you look at Perry’s lifetime political contributions, you’ll discover that almost all of his $380,000 went to Democrats.
Make no mistake: The coalition’s sole purpose is to try to convince North Carolinians that Republican-appointed trustees are hell-bent on destroying the university.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
UNC-CH’s only hope, they say, is voting the Republicans out of Raleigh. Perry and other Democrats are spending millions through public relations machines such as the Coalition for Carolina to convince you that the only path to redemption is on Election Day. When asked in a 2021 interview about accomplishing the coalition’s ultimate goal, Perry said “(t)he only way to do that may be at the ballot box.”
Perry and other Coalition of Carolina founders actually gave away their true purpose with some bureaucratic sleight of hand. In 2021, the coalition formed as a 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit, a classification that doesn’t allow for tax-deductible donations. The group raised about $120,000 in four months before establishing a second organization with the same name (but adding the word “Foundation”) to create a tax deductible-friendly 501(c)(3). Now Perry and other partisans are operating what’s essentially a dark money PAC while purporting to save the university and giving Democrat donors a tax write-off for their political expenditures.
Why are they so eager to seize control of the university again? In a March 29 article in the Daily Tar Heel, Perry says he’s troubled by current trustees “getting outside their guardrails and trying to overly influence and usurp things that historically have been administered and handled” by university employees — a convoluted way of calling the current board of trustees “micromanagers.”
What Perry considers micromanagement is really just management, period. The ugly truth is that previous Democrat-majority boards, including the one he led, adopted a laissez-faire management style that “oversaw” and condoned out-of-control spending and skyrocketing tuition and helped create a structural deficit. Had Perry’s board and others done their jobs, the university might not have, for instance, offered sham classes to students and protected a system of athletics that prioritized winning over academic integrity.
Since Republicans have taken a more prominent leadership role at the university, the board no longer rubber-stamps the administration’s every request. We question and work to problem-solve alongside them. Rather than simply giving the appearance of oversight, we’re actually reviewing documents and scrutinizing budgets. We’ve worked with the administration to keep tuition flat for a seventh consecutive year; eliminated the $100 million structural deficit; instituted tuition transparency so families know the true costs; protected free speech; and, most recently, begun reviewing the return on investment of individual majors and departments.
Genuine governance requires reformers, not spendthrift cheerleaders.
North Carolinians deserve stewards of their university who are willing to do the work, not just enjoy the rewards of the position. The actions of Perry and his fellow Democrats are blatant and craven attacks on Republicans.
Thoughtful Tar Heels will see these charades for what they are: orchestrated political enterprises by politically ambitious “university supporters” who don’t understand that proper oversight sometimes requires saying “no” and doing more than attending games and cocktail parties. The public needs to demand accountability from these politically-driven actors and groups that seek to write-off their political attacks on Republicans and the university.
Marty Kotis is a member of the UNC Board of Trustees who lives in Greensboro