by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jay Schalin writes for the Martin Center about recent changes in leadership at the University of North Carolina.
Since 2015, the University of North Carolina system’s Board of Governors (BOG) has endured one controversy after another, beginning with protests over decisions to close three “academic centers” for being overly political and to replace Democrat Thomas Ross as the system president with Republican Margaret Spellings.
Some of the problems have been of the board’s own making; others were thrust upon them that they handled badly. The constant uproar and criticism is to be expected; the board’s critics—in the media, in the university system, and elsewhere—will bray loudly as long as their fellow leftists are not in control of their treasured Ivory Tower.
However, the problem is not, as the critics claim, that the board is unnecessarily authoritative and overbearing. It is because they are at times incoherent and too hesitant to confidently assert their full authority.
And it now appears that the pressure is taking a toll on the decision-making capacity of the board. Recent actions by the board altering governance procedures suggest the possibility that many of the members just want to get out of the line of fire and are willing to yield their rightful authority to do so. This may damage the system for many years to come.
Especially concerning is the way they are consolidating more power in the office of the system president.
At their September meeting, the board voted to give the system president a greater share in the selection of campus chancellors—an extremely important decision. The president will in effect be able to choose a final candidate by him- or herself, with the board reduced to giving a final yea or nay vote.
At that meeting, the board also punted in regard to an existing policy that enables them to rise above one of the biggest problem areas in higher education governance. That is an “asymmetry of information problem” that forces the board to overly rely on those whom it is supposed to oversee for information.