HB2 and HBCUs Among Topics at First UNC Board of Governors Public Comment Session

For the first time ever, public comment was taken at the conclusion of the UNC Board of Governors meeting just before the Memorial Day Weekend.

About 30 minutes after the regular meeting wrapped up on Friday, several members of the board migrated to another room at the Center for School Leadership Development at the Friday Center to hear from members of the public.

Over the last 18 months, the board has come under increased scrutiny following the removal of Tom Ross as System President, the subsequent search for his replacement that led to Margaret Spellings and controversial pieces of legislation from the General Assembly that some feel has targeted the HBCUs across the 17-campus system.

The first person to speak was no surprise to those who have been following the contentious board meetings in recent months – Altha Cravey, a professor at UNC – Chapel Hill.

Cravey has been a constant face at board meetings and rallies on the UNC campus to voice opposition to the newly installed President Spellings.

“I want to thank the board,” Cravey began, “and I want to thank the individual members here today, each of you, for being here with us and for listening to public comments.

“I think this is a really important step.”

Cravey asked the board to move at a slower pace when making changes to the system. Cravey was also critical of laws that were recently passed or are currently being considered by the North Carolina General Assembly.

“They are a thinly veiled attack on our historically black universities,” Cravey said. “And we will defend them; the public will defend will defend them and professors and students will defend them.”

Cravey also asked the board not to hire outside legal counsel to fight HB2, which the board announced just moments before that they had done, but instead to ignore the state law and follow federal guidelines.

Public comment period at UNC Board of Governors meeting. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Public comment period at UNC Board of Governors meeting. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Several themes developed among the nine speakers. Many said thank you to the board for installing the public comment sessions before voicing grievances over legislation and what some view as the “corporatization” of the University System.

Spellings told reporters that there is a policy in place to get the comments in front of the entire board for future consideration.

“Our plan is for a readout of the public comment period to be presented to the board at the subsequent meeting,” Spellings said. She added there are “boundaries” to the public comments being allowed, saying it would not focus on “grade assignments or anything like that” but rather “public policy that we can deal in.”

Board chair Lou Bissette said these sessions will be a mainstay going forward.

“We’re going to do this at every regular meeting,” he said. “And I think it’s going to be great for us and for people who want to come in and give us their thoughts.”

Nine speakers signed up for the public comment session on Friday, but that number is likely to grow as the fall approaches and students are back on campuses across the state.


UNC Board of Governors Hires Legal Counsel, Asks Attorney General to Pay For It

With the ongoing legal battles over North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2, the UNC System has hired outside legal counsel.

UNC leadership announced on Friday that the system had hired two Washington D.C.-based law firms to represent the system and the Board of Governors concerning the lawsuits over HB2; the law, which was passed in late March, requires transgender individuals to use the bathroom and shower facility that matches their birth certificate rather than their gender identity.

Left to right: Lou Bissette, Margaret Spelling and Thomas Shanahan speak to reporters. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Left to right: Lou Bissette, Margaret Spelling and Thomas Shanahan speak to reporters. Photo via Blake Hodge.

The system is locked in a legal fight with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina and Lambda Legal, which are representing a group of plaintiffs including a transgender UNC – Chapel Hill employee – and a lawsuit from the United States Department of Justice.

Board chair Lou Bissette said after the board meeting on Friday that there were no assumptions over how much these services would cost the UNC System.

“If we, somehow, find a way out of these lawsuits early on, the cost would be less,” Bissette said. “If we’re in there for a long time – you know what legal fees are today – so the sky would be the limit.”

UNC general counsel Thomas Shanahan said that the two firms – Jones Day and WilmerHale – were chosen because of their expertise in the areas where UNC will require guidance.

The board has hired the outside legal services after the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office has refused to represent the state in any legal proceedings involving HB2.

Bissette sent a letter to Attorney General Roy Cooper on Friday asking that his office “begin setting aside funds sufficient to pay the attorney’s fees and expenses that the University will incur in defending these matters and work with us to ensure that the expenses are paid in full.”

“I’m not picking on him,” Bissette said of the request. “It’s a serious matter for us. It’s a lot of money.

“When you’re involved in lawsuits with the US Justice Department, you have to have adequate representation. And we intend to have adequate representation, but it’s not inexpensive.”

The board also passed a motion asking for the AG’s office to respond to the letter within 60 days. At that point, the board would ask the General Assembly to direct Cooper’s office to refund the legal fees.

A spokesperson with Cooper’s office issued a statement to WCHL after receiving the letter from Bissette saying, “The Attorney General would encourage the UNC Board of Governors to help fight HB2 by urging the governor and legislature to repeal the law which would quickly solve the problem.”

Margaret Spellings. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Margaret Spellings. Photo via Blake Hodge.

UNC System President Margaret Spellings reiterated what she has said before regarding HB2, saying that the 17 campuses are stuck between complying with state and federal law. Spellings added that there has been no change in policy at the UNC System and, therefore, they have not violated federal law, as the lawsuits claim they have.

“It is our position, as we’ve said repeatedly, that our policies that commit to a free and open atmosphere of nondiscrimination certainly stand,” Spellings said. “We are not in violation of Title IX or Title VII and do not believe that we have committed any acts against Title IX or Title VIII or any of the federal laws.

“There’s really no issue.”

A motion was filed on behalf of the UNC System in federal court on Friday asking for a stay of the proceedings on the grounds that there is no enforcement policy in HB2 and that the University System has no plans to enforce the law.


Tom Ross Honored with University Award by UNC Board of Governors

UNC President Emeritus Tom Ross is the 2016 recipient of the University Award.

It is the highest honor given by the UNC Board of Governors and recognizes exceptional service to higher education in North Carolina; the award is coming from the same board that came under fire for removing Ross as System President over the last 12 months.

Ross was honored with a banquet Thursday where friends, family and NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson spoke about his accomplishments.

A Greensboro native, Ross graduated from Davidson College and the UNC – Chapel Hill School of Law. He became UNC System President in 2011 after serving as the president of Davidson and executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. He also served 17 years on the bench as a Superior Court Judge and worked as the director of the NC Administrative Office of the Courts.

Ross served as the UNC President from 2011-2016, during which time he recommended new chancellors for 11 UNC campuses and broadened system-wide efforts to maximize efficiencies such as expanding online offerings, promoting shared services and increasing private fundraising. He also commissioned the first statewide analysis of the economic impact of higher education in North Carolina, which affirmed UNC’s critical role as an economic driver for the state economy.

Ross’ other honors include the Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence, Distinguished Alumni Awards from both Davidson and the UNC – Chapel Hill School of Law and the UNC – Chapel Hill Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award.

He will continue his public service as the President of the Volker Alliance. On July 1, he joins the New York-based, non-partisan organization that seeks to advance effective implementation of public policies and rebuild the public’s trust in the government.


Roy Williams Undergoes Successful Knee Surgery

UNC men’s basketball coach Roy Williams is “resting comfortably” following knee surgery on Friday, according to the university.

Williams underwent knee replacement surgery on his right knee. Dr. Walt Beaver says the surgery went very well, the university tweeted.

Recovery time following knee replacement surgeries varies among different patients, but Williams previously said he anticipates being back in action in July during a busy recruiting season.


Four Local Students Earn Chancellor’s Award

UNC chancellor Carol Folt has honored 73 students with the Chancellor’s Award, the university’s most prestigious honor.

“At Carolina we expect our students to innovate, create, compete and excel,” said Folt. “Through extraordinary academic achievement, public service and leadership, our Chancellor’s Awards recipients have exceeded these expectations and set a standard of excellence for future generations.”

Four students from Chapel Hill and Carrboro were given the award:

Juliana Ritter

Kierra Campbell

Mildred Dasher

Neal Siekierski


Folt Announces Launch of UNC’s Ethics and Integrity Website

After moving at what Chancellor Carol Folt called “rocket speed,” UNC has launched a new Ethics and Integrity website to help offer guidance to members of the Carolina community.

“It’s a tool that will consolidate all of the information that we have on resources, programs and policies that deal with ethics and integrity,” Folt said at the Board of Trustees meeting last Thursday.

Folt said the goal of the website was to streamline understanding of the many policies that govern different facets of the university and to allow for a one-stop shop of sorts for any faculty members with concerns.

“One of the goals is to consolidate those [university policies] too and to eliminate redundancies,” Folt said, “make it easier and make it more effective for people.”

Folt announced in February that the university would be creating a new position, Chief Integrity and Policy Officer. She followed that by announcing the intention to launch the new website at the board’s meeting in March.

Folt said she was pleased with steps the university is continuing to take following the visit from SACS, the school’s accrediting body, last month.

“We continue to do everything that we possibly can to make [UNC] a strong place,” Folt said. “I think part of the SACS visit was a good opportunity for us to continue to look at what we’re doing, assess it [and] prepare ourselves for questions.

“That gives you a chance to do self reflection.”

UNC has been on probation with SACS over the last year following the Wainstein Report’s investigation into the long-running paper-class scandal at the university.

“We just keep doing all of those things and answering all of the questions and feel pretty strong about what we are and how we’re going about our business,” Folt said when asked about the university’s positioning with SACS.

The SACS board will gather next month for its semiannual meeting. At that time, the board is expected to vote on UNC’s standing. SACS could restore the university’s status, keep the school on probation or revoke its accreditation – although a full removal does not seem to be expected.


UNC Men’s Tennis Loses in NCAA Quarterfinals

The UNC men’s tennis season came to an end on Sunday.

The Tar Heels were facing Georgia in the NCAA Quarterfinals attempting to become the second team in ACC history to reach an NCAA Final Four.

But the Bulldogs were too much for Carolina. Georgia took the opening doubles point and then won the first three singles matches for the overall victory.

While Carolina was serving for wins on two courts, it wasn’t enough as Georgia was able to secure the victory.

It was one of the most successful seasons in UNC history as Carolina won the Indoor National Championship earlier this year.


UNC Weight Loss Study Shows Positive Results

From high-intensity training, to low-impact sports, there are many ways to go about staying in shape.

But in an effort to decide which method is best, UNC professor of health and nutrition, Deborah Tate, has compared two popular methods.

“Unfortunately, losing weight and then keeping that weight off proves extremely difficult and challenging for the majority of people. So we took a step back to think, ‘When are the high risk times when people gain weight?’”

Tate found this high risk time is between the ages 18 to 35. Young adults during this period gain an average of 30 pounds – a trend Tate says is becoming increasingly more dangerous.

“We’re getting high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease risk factors earlier than our parents’ or our grandparents’ generation and one reason they suspect this is because of the weight gain.”

The first weight loss method Tate tested was called “slow changes.”

A group of 200 people were told to add 2,000 extra steps and eat 100 less calories per day over a three year period.

“You do that every day, just a little bit, not too burdensome, but every single day. Versus the large changes – that was very periodic.”

The “large changes” group cut their calories by 500 every day and increased physical activity to four hours over an eight week period.

“It buffers you against those weight gains that are going to happen over time so that the result is that you end up at least at, or below, where you would have started.”

Tate found that both methods resulted in healthier body weights for the participants. In addition, the two groups achieved their fitness goals at a higher rate than the control group – people who were trying to lose weight on their own.

“Both of them worked better than the self-guided group over the three years and we actually cut risks of becoming obese in half.”

Tate said one of the keys to success was the daily weigh-ins where participants were encouraged to track their progress.

“You can’t know where you’re trying to go or where you’ve been if you don’t have that regular yardstick or that regular measurement.”

Aside from the improved numbers on the scale, Tate said one of the biggest triumphs of the study is the self confidence it gave the participants and anyone else looking to lose weight.

“This study shows that you can do it and that participants really were able to follow both approaches and adapt their lifestyle.”

Whether that lifestyle includes small changes, or big ones, Tate says both work just fine.


UNC Researcher Earns United States’ Highest Scientific Award

Joe DeSimone is one of 17 recipients of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, which was given to him by President Barack Obama in a ceremony Thursday.

“The real reason we do this, as I’ve said before, is to teach our young people that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl or the NCAA Tournament that deserves a celebration,” Obama said. “We want the winners of science fairs. We want those who have invented the products and life-saving medicine and are engineering our future to be celebrated too.”

DeSimone was recognized for his work with cancer research and 3D-printing.

His work has impacted a number of fields including medicine and manufacturing.

DeSimone is part of a joint program, where he is a professor of chemistry at UNC and chemical engineering at NC State.

“This is a world-class honor,” said chair of the UNC Board of Trustees Dwight Stone. “Highest honor our nation gives. Joe and his staff should be commended for all the work they do.”

UNC chancellor Carol Folt also made the trip to Washington to support DeSimone.

“One of the exciting thing about Joe’s work is that it’s so cross cutting,” she said. “He works in medicine, he works in manufacturing. He has inventions in so many fields. He’s involved in every way that you can imagine making it stronger here.”


Five Tar Heels Named Women’s Lax All-Americans

Five members of the UNC women’s lacrosse team have been named to the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association All-America teams, which were announced Wednesday.

Molly Hendrick and Marie McCool earned first-team honors. Mallory Frysinger, Aly Messinger and Sammy Jo Tracy were named to the second-team.

UNC was tied with Maryland, the top-ranked team in the country throughout the season, with the most players named All-American.

Third-seeded UNC is preparing to host No. 6 Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday afternoon.