by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jay Schalin of the Martin Center devotes his latest column to the UNC System’s future after the departure of President Margaret Spellings.
The surprise resignation of Margaret Spellings from the presidency of the University of North Carolina system presents an opportunity to improve the system’s insufficient governance policies.
The key to this improvement is to hire an independent staff member for the Board of Governors, subject only to the board. The state legislature has already recognized this need; in 2017, it included a provision in the 2017 budget allowing the board to hire its own staff, allotting up to $300,000 per year for that purpose.
Currently, staff services for the board are provided by members of the system president’s administration. This creates a conflict of interest—the administrators’ primary allegiances are to the president, rather than to the board. It is only to be expected that they will serve the president’s agenda rather than injuring their immediate superior’s case to present a more balanced view.
Of course, the creation of a new staff position loyal to the board alone represents a major shift in power. The system administration has long been able to manipulate the board by controlling the information and setting the agenda; the board staff member, who should be a senior policy person, will inevitably disrupt those dynamics.
Which will be a good thing. Universities (and university systems) employ shared governance; it is not meant to function as a single unit, but to offer a Madisonian system of checks and balances. Governing boards should be first among equals with the administration and the faculty, not merely rubberstamp formalities.