A new President of the UNC System is expected to be in place before year’s end. And while a selection may be closer, it does not appear the decision is being made with a unanimous voice.
The UNC System Board of Governors met for more than four hours on Friday in what was dubbed an “emergency meeting.”
UNC System spokesperson Joni Worthington told WCHL via e-mail before the meeting that no candidate names would be discussed at the meeting and that no action would be taken on any candidate.
While no action was taken, it does appear that candidate names were discussed. The night before the meeting, Jane Stancill with the News and Observer published a story claiming that the 32-member board would be meeting with Margaret Spellings, the former US secretary of education in the George W. Bush administration.
At the meeting on Friday, a reporter with the liberal-leaning Raleigh think-tank NC Policy Watch snapped a picture of someone distinctly resembling Spellings appearing before the Board of Governors during the roll call, which was in the open portion of the session.
— NC Policy Watch (@NCPolicyWatch) October 16, 2015
According to reports, Spellings was quickly ushered away as the Board quickly moved into closed session.
The Presidential Search Committee has met in several marathon sessions in recent weeks for what the agenda has been called “candidate review.”
Friday’s meeting was the first time all of the board met together to discuss the search. Multiple members of the Board of Governors have made it public that they felt the search for a new President was too secretive, even among members of the board, and was being guided too heavily by the Search Committee, and in particular, Board Chair John Fennebresque.
In e-mails quoted in the N&O, several members have called for the resignation of Fennebresque saying no matter how qualified the candidate who was chosen to lead the 17-campus system, it would not be welcomed due to the feeling it was the chair’s hand-picked choice.
The board has not been the only body expressing discomfort with how the board, specifically Fennebresque, is moving forward.
Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore wrote a letter to the board last Thursday expressing their concern with the search conforming to new legislation. Senate Bill 670 was passed before the legislature wrapped up a long session last month. The bill calls for the final three candidates to be put forward for the consideration of the entire board.
The tricky part is that Senate Bill 670 has not been signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory, and the governor’s press office did not respond to multiple requests for clarification of the governor’s intention with the legislation.
Worthington released another statement just before the emergency meeting on Friday saying that the board’s process follows the law “as amended” and Board policy.
The statement went on to say, “we fully understand President Berger’s and Speaker Moore’s view that the recently passed Senate Bill 670 requires that the full Board of Governors consider the name of at least three final candidates. We share their desire that the final selection not be hurried or made without consideration by the entire board.”
McCrory has until the end of the day on October 30 to sign or veto Senate Bill 670, which also places term limits on board members. If he does not sign the bill, it will become law. Coincidentally, the next scheduled Board of Governors meeting, where a new President could be named, is slated for October 30.
The board is searching for a new President to replace Tom Ross, who will be leaving that position in early January of next year. Earlier this year, the board, made up on nearly all Republicans, announced that Ross, a Democrat, would be moving from that position, although no specific reason was given for the removal. Fennebresque said at a press conference the removal was not politically motivated. The board shifted to majority and now nearly unanimous Republican makeup in the years since the legislature has seen a similar shift in North Carolina. Board members are elected by members of the General Assembly.