RALEIGH — On June 12, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced his 15-member Commission on Public University Governance had issued its initial recommendations.
“North Carolina’s visionary leadership in higher education has distinguished our state and made a real difference for our people,” Cooper said in a press release. “These recommendations will help strengthen this system and keep it as the priceless gem and economic recruitment tool it is for our state.”
Among the recommendations is a new “Center of Higher Education Governance,” a call for more transparency and accountability, and expanding the UNC Board of Governors from 24 members to upward of 32 to 36 members in the name of “bipartisanship.”
The governor’s press release included remarks by the co-chairs of the Commission, Tom Ross and Margaret Spellings. Both are past UNC System presidents; Ross served from 2011-2016 and Spellings from 2016-2019.
“Our recommendations are focused in significant part on ensuring the voices of all North Carolinians are reflected and represented on the governing boards of our universities,” said Ross. “I believe they will enhance our current university governance, increase public confidence in our university and its leaders, and make it possible for more diverse thoughts, ideas and innovations to be considered by the governing boards. Put simply, these recommendations, if adopted, will make our great University system even stronger and better.”
“These recommendations represent common-sense reforms that will help ensure our universities and their governance fully represent those who attend, are served by and who support through their tax dollars these critical institutions,” Spellings said. “We must have systems that the public understands, supports and where they are welcome to participate as well as places where they see themselves. These recommendations will help do just that.”
Other members of the committee were Lou Bissette Jr., Nicole Dobbins, Isaiah Green, Ann Goodnight, Clifford A. Jones Sr., Gary Locklear, Karen A. Popp, Cressie Thigpen Jr., John Townsend III, Brad Wilson, Sen. Gladys Robinson, and Reps. John Fraley and John Bell.
According to Cooper’s press release, “While North Carolina is rich in all types of diversity, that diversity and that strength is not reflected in public university governance today in the manner contemplated by existing state law.”
The Commission’s recommendations include:
- The UNC Board of Governors should create a new Center of Higher Education Governance to optimize the use of good governance principles in higher education throughout America and to assist the Board of Governors (BOG) and Boards of Trustees (BOTs) in enhancing existing governance practices in North Carolina.
- The General Assembly should increase the size of the Board of Governors from the current 24 to 32-36 members and that the “enlarged Board of Governors would enable additional opportunities to increase diversity pursuant to N.C General Statutes §116-7(a),” according to Cooper’s press statement.
- The General Assembly should increase the size of each of the university institutional Boards of Trustees to 15 members not including ex-officio members.
- All members of the Board of Governors who are not ex-officio members should be picked by the majority party in the House and in the Senate; 12 members each. The largest minority party in the House and Senate would get to pick four members each.
- The General Assembly should increase the length of the terms of members of the Board of Governors and Boards of Trustees from four years to eight years.
- To enhance transparency and accountability of board members, all general business meetings of the Board of Governors and each Board of Trustees should be livestreamed and recorded.
- Any individual who has been serving as a registered lobbyist or as a member of the General Assembly should have a required “cooling-off” period before serving on a governing board.
Cooper claims that by using his Commission’s recommendations, “the current and future legislative leadership would not lose a single appointment,” and that “any appointments to the Boards of Trustees allocated to the Governor would not go into effect until January 2025.”
Last November, Cooper created the Commission through Executive Order 272 and tasked it with “evaluating the current governance structure of the University of North Carolina System” as well as each individual school. The Commission would then make recommendations to Cooper on “how to improve existing governance.”
The Commission was supposed to meet just four times before rendering its recommendations to the governor sometime on or around July 1 of this year.
At the time Cooper announced he had created the Commission, both Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) and House Speaker Tim Moore’s Chief of Staff Neal Inman were skeptical of it, per comments reported by The Associated Press.
“You’d have to be naïve to think the purpose of this ‘commission’ is to do anything other than recommend the governor obtain partisan appointments to university boards,” Berger said.
Inman pointed out the state constitution places governance of higher education with the General Assembly. He also agreed with Berger, writing in an email there is “no interest in changing the structure of the UNC system, regardless of whatever report this politically-motivated commission produces.”
Cooper’s press statement indicated that a “full and complete report” by his Commission will be released in the coming weeks.
EDITOR: Feature image loaded on NSJOnline