A Look At The Not-So-New UNC Board of Governors

Mar 22, 2019

Ten members of the UNC Board of Governors were reappointed by the state legislature this week, amid criticism of the board's governance and lack of diversity.
Credit Lisa Philip / WUNC

University of North Carolina Board of Governors member Steve Long has apologized for comments he made earlier this week disparaging the leadership of his chairman, Harry Smith. At a full meeting of the board at Appalachian State University in Boone on Friday, Long said he should have come directly to Smith with his concerns.

Long, a Raleigh attorney, told WUNC earlier this week that Smith was to blame for the departures of East Carolina University Chancellor Cecil Staton and former UNC System President Margaret Spellings. He said Smith would continue to damage the university system as long as he remained chairman.

According to reports in NC Policy Watch and Carolina Journal, there was a movement amongst other members of the board to censure Long for his comments.

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper told the board at its meeting today that one of his goals was to "settle things down," and that he thought the system had made progress on this front. Since he took the helm in January, both UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University have lost their chancellors. 

New-Old Board Taking Shape

As tensions between members of the Board of Governors flared this week, the largely-Republican state legislature voted to reappoint 10 members, including Thom Goolsby. Goolsby is known for his outspoken support for keeping the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam at its original location on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

Lawmakers also appointed two new members: Martin Holton, an executive at Reynolds American, a tobacco company, and Hilton Terry Hutchens, a Fayetteville-based attorney. Walter Davenport, one of two registered Democrats and three African-American members on the current board, did not receive reappointment despite seeking the post.

These reappoinments and appointments come amid concerns from Democratic lawmakers and voices inside and outside the university system about the appointment process and the diversity of the board. When the new board is seated, 25 percent of its members will be women and 12 percent will be black. Nearly 60 percent of students in the system are women and more than 20 percent of students are black.

Petition To 'Reform UNC Governance' Picks Up Momentum

More than 1,600 people have signed a petition calling for reform of UNC system leadership, including prominent business and civic leaders like Richard Vinroot, former mayor of Charlotte. The petition calls for a Board of Governors that refrains from "meddling and micromanaging" the system's 17 campuses.

"We need a balanced and independent Board of Governors designed to outlast political transitions and comprised of members who have only one interest at heart: the success of our entire university system," the petition website reads.

Roger Perry, a developer and former UNC-Chapel Hill trustee, signed his name to the petition. He believes current members of the Board of Governors don't have the necessary know how and experience required to guide the state's public university system.

"[They] are the ones who've done the most in a partisan manner for the leadership of the legislature," said Perry. "Their contributions of resources and time have been simply to the partisan cause."

Perry said he's not sure if the petition will bring actual change. But, he said, at the least it's gotten the attention of the board.

Board chairman Harry Smith has dismissed the petition as the work of a vocal minority.