For years, the UNC System of Governance has been embroiled in controversy, most recently in a fight over the hiring of journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, and before that, a shady deal over the removal of the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam from campus.
For years, faculty at some campuses have complained about political pressure coming from the board, including former UNC system president Erskine Bowles. A report released in April found political interference in academia across the UNC system.
Currently, Republican legislative leaders control all appointments to the Board of Governors, which oversees policy for North Carolina’s 16 public universities. Because of growing controversies, Gov. Roy Cooper last week called for fundamental changes announcing a new commission tasked with creating recommendations to combat what he sees as undue political influence in the system’s current structure.
Cooper named two previous presidents of the UNC System — Tom Ross and Margaret Spellings — to chair the new commission and provide recommendations within eight months.
“Unfortunately, a spate of controversies over the last few years has led to concerns that boards plagued by undue political influence and bureaucratic meddling hinder effective university governance,” Cooper said in a written statement. “Instability and political interference can have significant impacts on campus leadership, turnover and academic experience for students, and can threaten the university’s reputation and the state’s economy and communities.”
The recommendations will be sent to the General Assembly which is still controlled by Republicans. It seems unlikely that leaders like House Speaker Tim Moore will take these recommendations seriously as Moore told the press he has “no interest in changing the structure of the UNC system.” Republican state Senate leader Phil Berger’s office called the announcement “Cooper’s latest distraction.”
Current University System President Peter Hans said in a statement that disagreements over policy and governance are a fact of life and that the system welcomes “public interest and accountability.”