CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Division within the University of North Carolina’s governing board was exposed after disclosure of a letter signed by a majority of board members criticizing system leadership, along with the approval of resolutions considering significant system changes.
The UNC Board of Governors, meeting this week in Chapel Hill, approved proposals that some members said they hadn’t even been told about before gathering. Three of the four resolutions were approved on split votes, with one member questioning whether they were interfering with the powers of system President Margaret Spellings, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.
“It would seem that we are blurring the lines between policy and management, and I think this, long term, is a recipe for chaos,” board member Joe Knott said. “We are not equipped to run this institution.”
Spellings and Board Chairman Lou Bissette already had been chastised in an Aug. 22 letter — revealed this week and signed by 15 of the 28 board members — for a lack of communication. The board members were particularly unhappy with a letter sent by Spellings, Bissette and others to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper about security and plans for the Confederate soldier statute on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus that many want removed.
The letter, written by Tom Fetzer, a former state Republican Party chairman, also was signed by several other new members elected to the board in the spring by the General Assembly. Spellings took over the job leading the 17-campus system in early 2016. The board is overwhelmingly Republican.
Resolutions approved Thursday by the board despite opposition directed special committees to review the size and scope of the UNC system administration staff, reorganize the board’s meetings, and study whether to move system staff to Raleigh or Research Triangle Park. Moving the staff would be designed to reduce a bias perceived by some toward UNC-Chapel Hill, the system’s flagship campus.
Fetzer said there was nothing wrong with the board asserting its responsibility to oversee university leaders.
“I think we would be negligent if periodically and regularly we didn’t provide that sort of guidance,” Fetzer said, adding that most students of history would agree “nothing great in this country occurred without a raging, raucous, robust, passionate debate beforehand.”
Another resolution, approved unanimously, committed the board to work to reduce tuition and fees at all system schools while preserving and enhancing their educational quality.
Spellings said she saw the proposals as “housekeeping” matters, not a new direction for the UNC system.
Spellings attributed Thursday to the development of a new board with new members. “A lot of this is just educating folks about what’s gone on before their arrival,” she said in an interview.
Bissette told board members they “can either create more divisions, or we can all work together for a more united, cohesive board and can deal with the major university issues that we were elected to address.”
Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com