UNC Board of Governors Will Give General Assembly Closed Session Minutes

The Board of Governors met in special session on Friday to consider a request from some members of the General Assembly for a copy of the minutes from the October 30 meeting, where the board voted in closed session to give 12 Chancellors pay raises, but did not disclose that information in open session.

Joe Knott, who was appointed to a four-year term on the board earlier this year, said that he felt the request from the legislators was overreach.

“What has been one of the keys to preserving academic excellence here has been the insulation of the university from political control,” Knott says. “That is the role of the Board of Governors.”

The board, ultimately, voted to give legislators the minutes from the closed-session-pay-raise debate.

The meeting took an odd turn when Knott accused lawmakers of attempting to influence the recent selection of a new System President.

“One of the legislators gave our chairman instruction as to who the next President should be,” Knott says. “This, of course, is extremely beyond the pale.”

Knott added that Chairman John Fennebresque, who resigned following the tumultuous Presidential search, deserved credit for refusing that suggestion from the legislator.

But other members of the board were visibly frustrated with Knott and said that if he had evidence of that, he should bring it forward.

Knott refused to identify the legislator who made the request, the candidate they had pushed for, or how he knew that the request had been made.

“I’m satisfied that it did,” he says. “And I’m satisfied that that is the sort of thing that would be very dangerous to the continued health of this institution.”

Former state Senator and current member of the Board of Governors Thom Goolsby said he has received no pressure or direction from members of the General Assembly since moving to the board.

“I think Mr. Knott’s statements were completely unwarranted on anything I’ve experienced on this board,” Goolsby says. “I’ve received nothing but support and hands-off as far as my decisions go from the General Assembly. But I am happy to receive any direction or question they have from me and to hear what they have to say, because they answer directly to the people.

“I’m given a four-year term. They’re given a two-year term.”

Vice Chairman Lou Bissette, who has been leading the board since the resignation of Chairman John Fennebresque following the election of Margaret Spellings as System President, was the recipient of praise from many members of the board for his leadership style in the interim.

Board member Marty Kotis said he is happy with the announcement that the board will receive a presentation on open records laws in North Carolina at its December meeting.

“Comments by Mr. Knott overshadowed our Chairman Lou Bissette,” Kotis says. “He is phenomenal. He is really pushing for more transparency here. We’re all excited about his actions.”

The board sent the requested information to the legislature on Friday afternoon and is scheduled to release it to the public when it has been properly formatted for public circulation.


Dear Chancellor Folt

Dear Chancellor Folt:

You came to Carolina in our most difficult hour.

And the darkness has not yet lifted.

Chancellor Folt

Alta Cravey

We need a strong leader right now, someone who can speak for all North Carolinians, for staff, students and faculty at UNC Chapel Hill.

You have immense power & responsibility as Chancellor of the UNC system’s flagship campus.

You can be our voice and in this way help guide the UNC system.

Last week, UNC’s Board of Governor’s voted in closed session to give huge raises to UNC system Chancellors.

SPEAK UP for North Carolinians who struggle to pay for their children’s skyrocketing tuitions.

SPEAK UP for staff who work tirelessly to keep our campus beautiful and clean and keep everything working smoothly.

SPEAK UP for students who deserve to study without the burden of life-long debt.

SPEAK UP for faculty who haven’t seen raises in years.

SPEAK BACK to those who want to run Carolina as if it were a corporation.

Tell the Board of Governors that you prefer to stand with ordinary North Carolinians across the state and with smaller campuses and with the Systems’ Historically Black Universities.

Tell them you REJECT the idea of living like royalty when so many North Carolinians are hurting and when so many who work at UNC Chapel Hill aren’t getting raises.

STAND with North Carolinians, Chancellor Folt and we will stand with you.


— Altha Cravey


(Listen to Alta Cravey’s Commentary)


Pushing Spellings into the pantheon, not the trash bin

Let’s help her all we can.

That is what I am telling my friends in the university community when they express displeasure at the selection of Margaret Spellings as their new president, or when they complain about the UNC Board of Governors’ presidential selection process and some of its other recent actions.

First of all though, you should know that I am a friend and big admirer of the current university president, Tom Ross. By all accounts, he has done, a masterful job. Even though the current board of governors signaled the end of his presidency a year ago, he remained on the job, cooperative, productive, positive, and successful.

I am sorry he is leaving. The state and the university communities are losing an extraordinary leader.

That said, why am I cautioning others in the university to help the new president rather than berating her for her past political connections and public service?

My answer is another question: Will our state university system be better if she succeeds or if she fails in her new job?

If success includes securing the resources to maintain and enhance the universities’ program, in addition to leading and managing its operations, Spellings has a good chance to succeed.

Our university president is the connective link between the university and the state legislature and its leaders, the ones who make the decisions each year about the amount of state resources that will be allocated to higher education.

Even more important, perhaps, the legislature can make laws that regulate the operation of the university, as it did last month when it amended the law to change the selection procedure for presidents. Another example occurred in 1963, when it passed the Speaker Ban Law that restricted freedom of speech on university campuses.

Unlike most state higher education governing boards, UNC’s board of governors is selected by the North Carolina legislature.

Ms. Spellings lacks two qualities that have been important to prior UNC presidents who followed the legendary 30-year tenure of William Friday:

  1. Public higher education administration experience, as with Molly Broad, and
  2. Significant experience in North Carolina public life, as with Dick Spangler, Erskine Bowles and Tom Ross.

Although she lacks both these qualities, Ms. Spellings knows the national education establishment, perhaps better than all her predecessors, and because of her political experience in the Republican camp, she can expect a warm welcome when she asserts the importance of her education to our state as an advocate to the Republican leadership in our state legislature.

The challenge to supporters of the university should not be to destroy Spellings, but rather to use her vast political experience and connections to preserve and enhance the university.

If her political connections and experience give her an open door to legislative leaders; if she uses that access to explain how the institution underpins our state’s progress and advocate for the resources it needs to continue its leadership role; and if she is willing to stand in the door to prevent unnecessary and detrimental legislative meddling, then she may follow her presidential predecessors into the pantheon of heroic North Carolinians.

On the other hand, if her background and connections lead to her being a puppet of some ideologues whose agenda is to hobble the university, she could wind up in the trash bin of North Carolina history.

I am hoping for the pantheon, not the trash bin.


Who is Margaret Spellings?

raleigh mann

Raleigh Mann

Our university’s system Board of Governors, manipulating rules to speed up the process, has handed the presidency of our state’s university system to a non-academic with strong Republican political credentials.

Margaret Spellings will replace Tom Ross, a distinguished leader this board praised for his effectiveness, but fired for reasons they could not explain.

I will explain it for them.

Tom Ross is a Democrat and that, we’ve learned, is unacceptable.

Listen to Raleigh Mann’s Commentary

So, who is Margaret Spellings?  Well, her political connections to George W. Bush and his political strategist Karl Rove go back about 25 years when she lobbied for the Texas School Boards Association  and Bush was running for Governor of Texas.

Bush chose Spellings to run his 1994 gubernatorial campaign.  When he became president, he made Spellings his domestic policy adviser then Education Secretary.  That’s when she championed No Child Left Behind, the program that forced teachers everywhere to scrap their lesson plans and devote their efforts to preparing their students to take lots of tests.

She left that job and moved on to head the Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.  Spellings does have academic credentials of a sort,  She served on some corporate boards.  One of them is the parent company of the for-profit university, the University of Phoenix.  Another is a collector of student loans.

The cynical behavior of this board of politicians who chose her is so far beyond disgraceful, we struggle to find adequate words to express our disgust.

Listen to more from The Commentators

James Moeser, former UNC Chancellor, tried.  He said of this board’s in-fighting and the state legislature’s meddling that the worst aspects of partisan politics have now infected the leadership of this university system.

Partisan politics have no place in education.


When politicians tamper with education, the people always lose.

— Raleigh Mann



Spellings Elected Unanimously Following Divisive Search Process

The UNC Board of Governors on Friday unanimously elected Margaret Spellings to serve as the new head of the 17-campus UNC system for the next five years.

“I’m thrilled to be coming here,” she says. “I’m thrilled for this next chapter in my career, and for the opportunity to lead this fine, fine set of institutions to a place of national prominence.”

Spellings served as secretary of education under President George W. Bush from 2005-2009. In her role as a domestic policy advisor, she was one of the primary proponents of the No Child Left Behind act of 2001, designed to reform primary education in public schools.

Since leaving office, Spellings has worked as an education consultant and as the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. She’s currently the president of the George W. Bush presidential center in Dallas, Texas.

While she has little experience in higher education, she says her business acumen will come in handy in the changing marketplace.

“Higher education is changing, and we have to change with it,” says Spellings. “The faculty knows that; we all know that. The public is demanding that. They want a good value proposition and they want it affordably. They want to complete in ways that are convenient to them, and we are going to meet those challenges.”

Her election caps off a 10-month saga of accusations and acrimony that began when current president Tom Ross was unexpectedly forced to step down in January.

The process to name his successor has been criticized from all sides.
Faculty members from the across the state say they’ve been left out of the loop, and denied the opportunity to meet potential candidates.

In an unprecedented move, the General Assembly passed a bill requiring greater transparency in the search process. That bill has yet to be signed into law, or vetoed, by Governor Pat McCrory.

Meanwhile, as Board Chair John Fennebresque called an emergency meeting last week to discuss the hire in closed session, some board members revolted, calling for Fennebresque to step down.

Critics say the messy search process has muddied the waters for the new president. The UNC Faculty Assembly issued a statement saying: “…the secretive character of this search […] will make it difficult to win the confidence and trust of the University community.”

Nonetheless, Spellings says she hopes faculty will give her the benefit of the doubt.

“I expect the faculty to react well to my appointment. I have skills that are different than theirs. I’m not an academic and I’m not a teacher. I’m not a researcher. I’m somebody that understands public policy making. I understand advocacy and I understand how to bring people together around a shared mission. I have a track record of doing that in my career.”

Spellings will receive a base salary of $775,000 annually. She’ll take office on March 1, 2016.

Former United States President George W. Bush released a statement congratulating Spellings.




UNC: Under Fire?

From state funding cuts to the closure of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, there’s a growing sense in Chapel Hill that UNC is under siege.

But is it true?

“We are one of the best-supported university systems in the country, (but) over the last few years there’s been a small but steady decline in the support,” said UNC Provost Jim Dean at Thursday’s WCHL Community Forum.

But he says it could be worse. “There’s not a university in the country that’s not feeling financial pressure, and many of them are in much greater difficulty than we are,” Dean said Thursday. “We’ve had historically high support from the (state) legislature – over the last few years that support has gone down a bit, but relative to other universities in the country, it’s still quite high.”

Still, it’s not just a question of funding. Controversy flared recently when the UNC Board of Governors voted to close the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill – a center run by outspoken law professor Gene Nichol, who’s angered conservatives with his statements against the General Assembly.

Was the Board’s decision to close the Center an attempt to punish Nichol for speaking out?

Mitch Kokai, communications director for the John Locke Foundation, says no. “It’s part of this whole idea of making sure that if you’re giving the University a lot of state money, (you should) make sure that the university system and the campus in Chapel Hill are focusing on high priorities,” he says.

Provost Dean points out that the closure of the center was never a question of money. “The poverty center was receiving no state support, so there was no savings there whatsoever,” he says.

But Kokai says there was more behind the decision than that.

“A lot of people…remember that the center started (by Nichol) for John Edwards to help launch his next presidential campaign,” he said Thursday. “So it was seen to be political…and if there had been a good solid record (of achievements) that he could have pointed to and said, look, you’re going to close down this center that’s doing all these great things, I think he would have had a case.

“But that just wasn’t forthcoming.”

Regardless, both Dean and Kokai agree that Nichol and his staff appear to have been able to continue the Center’s work, even without official status – so if the closure was an attempt to punish Gene Nichol, Kokai says it wasn’t particularly effective.

Click here to hear the full audio from Thursday’s Community Forum.


UNC Board of Governors Shuts Down 3 Academic Centers

The UNC Board of Governors voted unanimously in Charlotte on Friday to close three academic centers in the UNC System.

The affected centers are the UNC-Chapel Hill Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity; the Center for Biodiversity at East Carolina; and the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at N.C. Central University.

Friday’s proceedings at UNC-Charlotte were, at times, hard to hear, due to chanting outside by protesters.

Opponents of the move to close the centers accuse the Board of Governors of playing politics, particularly with the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, which receives no direct funding from the state. Members of the BOG have refuted such accusations.

That center’s director, UNC Law Professor Gene Nichol, has long been the subject of scrutiny from BOG members and conservative think tanks. He’s participated in Moral Monday protests; and he angered BOG members in late 2013 with an op-ed piece in the News & Observer that compared Gov. Pat McCrory to segregationist governors of the past.

In Friday’s News & Observer, Nichol responded to the BOG decision with an op-ed piece, in which he expressed gratitude for supporters, and disdain for the Board of Governors. Nichol warned that “an ill wind blows across the UNC System.”

He added that “the members of the Board of Governors have demonstrated unfitness for their high office. Their actions represent a profound, partisan, and breathtakingly shortsighted abuse of power.”

Nichol also announced that, despite what he characterized as a move by the BOG to punish him and censor free speech, donors have stepped up to ensure that the work of his poverty center, if not the center itself, will go on.

Last year, the Republican-controlled NC General Assembly called for a review of all 247 UNC centers and institutes, in an effort to save $15 million. The three centers to be shut down receive a total of $6,000 directly from the state.


UNC BOG: Ross’ Departure “Nothing To Do With Performance”

Here’s the full statement fron the UNC Board of Governors regarding the decision to oust President Tom Ross:

Joint Statement of the UNC Board of Governors and President Tom Ross
January 16, 2015

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors has decided to begin the process of leadership transition. The Board believes President Ross has served with distinction, that his performance has been exemplary, and that he has devoted his full energy, intellect and passion to fulfilling the duties and responsibilities of his office. This decision has nothing to do with President Ross’s performance or ability to continue in the office. The Board respects President Ross and greatly appreciates his service to the University and to the State of North Carolina.

The Board and President Ross have agreed that he will continue to serve with the Board’s full support until his resignation becomes effective January 3, 2016, or when his successor is in place, whichever is later. Though the timeline President Ross had for transition is different from that of the Board, he fully understands, appreciates and accepts the prerogative of the Board of Governors to select the president of the University. He has assured the Board of his full commitment to fulfilling the responsibilities of the presidency during the period of transition and to continuing to serve honorably and effectively the nation’s best public university, as well as the people of his home State of North Carolina.

The Board of Governors and the President have agreed that the January 2016 resignation date is appropriate to allow the Board to conduct a national search for the next president and to ensure an orderly transition of leadership. President Ross has also agreed to be available to advise and consult with the Board and University officials following his service as President, while he is on research leave preparing to join the faculty of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government.

Joni B. Worthington
Vice President for Communications
The University of North Carolina


34 UNC Centers and Institutes Could Be on the Chopping Block

Thirty-four UNC centers and institutes could face the ax from the university’s board of governors.

That report comes from NC Policy Watch.

Closing any or all of the centers across 16 UNC campuses would be the result of up to $15 million in cuts approved by the Republican-led state legislature. The proposed cuts extend to speaker series, and other “nonacademic activities” as well.

The list was narrowed down from 237 centers and institutions that were compiled earlier this year.

Seven of the 34 current centers on the list are already under campus review.

The Board of Governors will hear presentations on Wednesday and Thursday before making final recommendations.

Groups under review for the cuts include the Research Institute for Environment, Energy, and Economics at Appalachian State University; the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at N.C. Central University; and the UNC Center for Civil Rights at UNC-Chapel Hill.

NC Policy Watch quoted UNC Board of Governors member Jim Holmes, denying that the proposed cuts and closures are driven by any political agenda.


UNC BoG Votes To Cap Tuition And Financial Aid

The UNC Board of Governors voted to cap tuition at the state’s 16 public universities, but they say they’ll freeze student aid money at the same time.

The board unanimously approved a measure on Friday that caps tuition increases at five percent each year for the next four years. The board also placed a cap on need-based financial aid, limiting it to 15 percent of tuition revenue.

Currently, UNC-Chapel Hill and five other schools are already over that percentage. Those schools would not be required to decrease the amount of financial aid offered to students, but will not be able to increase the aid budget even if tuition goes up.