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Dysfunctional UNC board needs more diversity

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What do legislators have to say about the way members of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors are elected?

“Is this the way they did the ballots in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics?”

“There’s greater freedom in the Russian Duma, National People’s Congress in China and the Iraqi Congress than we experienced today in the N.C. Senate.”

“(The UNC Board is) “a partisan political preserve of one party.”

Was it from frustrated Democrats during elections last legislative session?

Nope! It was 15 years ago – and all from Republicans – former state Sens. Hugh Webster of Caswell County; Robert Pittenger of Mecklenburg County (who later won and lost a U.S. congressional seat) and Hamilton Horton of Forsyth County.

Those Republicans – the others like them including current Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore – could have acted on their complaints and reformed the UNC Board member selection process. Instead, they tossed aside their indignation. They doubled down on the system they’d criticized.

The UNC Board of Governors today is less diverse, in every way, than it was 15 years ago when an extensive study concluded the General Assembly “pays little attention” to board members qualifications or “demonstrated interest in higher education.”

It is time for change. Changing state law to give the governor – who has a statewide constituency -- at least a third of the appointments to the board would result in greater diversity and broader perspectives.

Today there are even fewer women (19 percent compared to 25 percent) and fewer African-Americans (11 percent compared to 22 percent) than 15 years ago. There are more lobbyists and others working in governmental affairs – directly beholden to the actions of the legislature.

The result is a UNC board that is utterly dysfunctional. Want evidence?

The board is on it’s third president in three years.

There are interim chancellors at four campuses (East Carolina University, UNC-Chapel Hill; Fayetteville State University; and UNC School of the Arts).

Board members -- independently, without authorization, full knowledge of other board members or administrators -- hire private investigators to look into official university business

One board member has been reprimanded by the state bar (for a non-board matter).

But even all that becomes pale in the light of the most recent management debacle.

A deal to give university property – UNC-Chapel Hill’s Silent Sam along with $2.5 million – to a group who claim to be descendants of Confederate veterans. The Sons of Confederate Veterans deny the horrors of slavery; contest the facts of the origin and outcome of the Civil War.

Its leadership seeks “a return to a godly, stable, tradition-based society with no ‘Northernisms’ attached, a hierarchical society, a majority European-derived country,” said Kirk Lyons, a lawyer who is adjutant of the SVC’s “Isaac Newton Giffen Camp 758” in Black Mountain.

How could a University system that, in its code, pledges to “protect faculty and students in their responsible exercise of the freedom to teach, to learn, and otherwise to seek and speak the truth” do even a dime’s worth of business with this group?

How could the (interim) chancellor of UNC-CH, find any words of praise – or even grudging acceptance – of such a horrible decision. Yet, on the day the settlement was signed, Kevin Guskiewicz offered his “deepest appreciation” to the UNC Board of Governors for “resolving this matter.”

As the interim chancellor has discovered since that day, the “matter” is hardly resolved.

We should ask how any of those involved – from UNC Board members Darrell Allison, Jim Holmes, Wendy Murphy, Anna Nelson and Bob Rucho (who were assigned to deal with the Silent Sam issue) and even to state Superior Court Judge Allan Baddour who signed the consent agreement – how could they have seen this as a good or appropriate deal?

This ideological inbreeding leads to the kind of misguided groupthink that fails to recognize the sheer immorality of doing business with the likes of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

It is a hurtful insult to the citizens of North Carolina. Alumni and students are astonished.

To assure at least a hint of diversity, it is time that law was changed. Give the governor at least a third of the appointments to the UNC Board of Governors.

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