UNC System Board of Governors Working On How to Pay for HB2 Lawsuit

For the first time since a federal judge blocked the University of North Carolina System from enforcing the state’s controversial House Bill 2, the system’s governing body met on Friday.

During a closed session portion of the meeting, the board discussed the overall case involving several UNC System employees suing over the legislation.

UNC System general counsel Thomas Shanahan said after the meeting that the late-August ruling from United States District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder gave the system some guidance to move forward.

But Shanahan said, overall, not much has changed for the system because it never intended to enforce the law, which advocates maintain is the worst piece of anti-LGBT legislation in the nation.

“House Bill 2 did not have enforcement provisions in it; the university has, therefore, not been taking steps to enforce it,” Shanahan said. “Judge Schroeder recognized that in his ruling; what he’s essentially said is – on the Title IX claim, that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on it and so he enjoined enforcement of HB2.

“And I think immediately afterward, the university confirmed that absolutely we would be following that injunction.”

System President Margaret Spellings has said the university was caught between state and federal law and would be working to continue offering a welcoming environment to all students.

North Carolina Attorney General – and current Democratic gubernatorial candidate – Roy Cooper has said from the beginning that his office would not defend the state in any capacity in the lawsuits over HB2 – that includes the university. The system has, therefore, hired outside counsel to represent the institutions, while asking to be dismissed from the lawsuit.

That means that extra funding is needed to cover the legal fees.

“Regarding any time the university retains counsel to represent it, it comes out of university assets,” Shanahan said. “So that’s how we would expect to pay for it.”

Shanahan also said that means, of course, that funding now won’t be available for other university functions.

“I think we can say that any time the university is spending money on legal fees, the funds are not available to spend on something else,” Shanahan said. “So in that way, it could have an impact on other things the university could do with the money.”

Board chair Lou Bissette sent a letter to the attorney general’s office earlier this year asking that funds be set aside to cover the cost of the university’s defense in the lawsuit. Bissette said at the board meeting in July that the AG’s office had declined that request.

The board had also request the General Assembly direct the AG’s office to allocate the funding if the initial request was denied, but Spellings said at the July meeting they had heard no response from the legislature at that point.

“We asked the legislature for some resources during the legislative session and, obviously, the meter is running as this progresses,” Spelling said. “We may have to go hat-in-hand to them early next year depending on how this all plays out.”

The full lawsuit over HB2 was initially scheduled to take place in early November but has since been pushed back to May. There is no estimation at this point over how much the lawsuit will cost the UNC System.


UNC Faculty Assembly Urge Governor to Veto Legislation

Faculty assembly leaders are urging Governor Pat McCrory to veto legislation concerning the UNC System.

Faculty leadership for the UNC System sent a letter to Governor Pat McCrory asking him to veto a bill that would set term limits for members of the UNC Board of Governors.

The letter to the governor, which is dated for last Friday, claims the legislation “purports to correct but in reality reinforces the politicization of Board of Governors appointments.”

Senate Bill 670 imposes term limits on appointees of the 32-member board to serve no more than three four-year terms. The bill also adjusts the process for selecting a new System President; it says at least three final candidates shall be submitted to the full board. The selection of a President-elect would require a majority of votes from the entire board.

An earlier provision called for the final three candidates to be made public; it was later removed before the bill was passed.

The letter to the governor, which was first reported on by the News & Observer, says, while faculty have been critical of the board, “there is no possible circumstance in which the faculty would support laws that strengthen the legislature’s arbitrary power to dictate the composition of the board.”

The letter summarizes that “the point is that any goal ill-obtained, whether laudable or not, is merely a precedent for further abuse of power.”

WCHL asked the governor’s office for an update on McCrory’s intention regarding Senate Bill 670 but did not receive a response.


UNC System Pres. Champions Freezing Tuition

CHAPEL HILL – Undergraduate students enrolled at the state’s 16 public universities, UNC Chapel Hill included, will likely have a reason to rejoice for the 2014-2015 school year. UNC System President Tom Ross said Thursday he hopes to freeze tuition costs for in-state students after a decade of steady increases.

Ross told members of the UNC System’s Board Of Governors at a Thursday budget meeting: “I think it is time for us to step back and not increase tuition. It’s going to be a struggle because we received another budget cut this year, but we have to figure out how we can be more efficient and how we can absorb these cuts.”

As part of the General Assembly’s two-year budget plans, cuts to the UNC System will be substantial. The spending plan allocates $126.5 million less than what was projected would be necessary to maintain last year’s operating levels, according to the Associated Press.

Charles Perusse, Chief Operating Officer for the UNC System, recapped the 2013 Legislative Session, which many criticized for the cuts made to education, writing, “We had a number of victories in Raleigh, but many of the victories were from playing defense.”

“The biggest wins were taking less of a reduction that we have seen over the past few years. Our net cut is about 2.5 percent this year [2013-2014], but if you look at the big reductions we took in the 2011-2013 time frame, those were close to a 13 percent reduction. We fared fair better this year and we are very thankful for that,” Perusse said.

UNC-CH has taken approximately $235 million in total state cuts since 2008.

Perusse counted other successes in areas like fewer line-item cuts for significant management flexibility and retaining UNC’s IT Exemption Fund.

“We kept management flexibility, information technology, and human resources. It is very important for us to meet student demands in the IT area as well as being able to recruit and retain important faculty,” Perusse said.

A funding cut that Perusse said was very disappointing was the loss of $15 million in appropriations for the UNC School of Medicine.

“By way of background, that appropriation used to be about $46 million. Then five years ago, when the recession hit and revenues became tight, that $46 million has been whittled down and that $15 million was the remaining portion—that eliminates it totally.”

Though much of the focus was on in-state students, Perusses said out-of-state students may catch a break in the 2014-2015 school year as well.

“The Legislature did include some built-in, non-resident tuition increases next year. 12.3 percent on four campuses [including UNC-CH] and six percent on other campuses, but I think there’s going to be further discussion about whether we want to get those tuition increases eliminated or reduced going forward,” Perusse said.

Tuition changes for the 2014-2015 school year won’t be finalized until this February.

The full Board Of Governors will meet Friday and is expected to vote on budget allocations for the 17 universities.

A noteworthy audience member at Thursday’s budget discussion was UNC Chancellor Carol Folt. The Board added 15 new members earlier in the day.