RALEIGH (November 23, 2022) – After years of turnover in leadership and political interference in the UNC System, Gov. Roy Cooper named members of his Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina today.
“It’s clear that leaders across our state, and across the political spectrum, care deeply about our remarkable university system and want these institutions to thrive,” Cooper said.
Under the leadership of former UNC System Presidents Tom Ross and Margaret Spellings, the governor said, he expects “a serious, results-oriented review of university governance.”1
The 24 members of the UNC Board of Governors are all appointed by the NC General Assembly. Members of the Board of Trustees at each of the UNC System’s 17 institutions are appointed by the General Assembly and the Board of Governors.
Cooper signed an executive order Nov. 1 creating the Governance Commission. He named Ross, a Democrat who led the UNC System from 2011 to 2016, and Spellings, a Republican who led the System from 2016 to 2019, as its co-chairs.
“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. 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,” Cooper’s office said at the time.2
The 15 people the governor appointed today are people of substance who care deeply about our public universities and their future. The group is bipartisan, diverse, and credible:
- Ross, the former president of both Davidson College and the UNC System, who also worked as a Superior Court judge and director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
- Spellings, who served as U.S. Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush and later president of the UNC System.
- State Rep. John Bell IV of Goldsboro, the NC House majority leader.
- W. Louis Bissette Jr., the former mayor of Asheville who has served on the Boards of Trustees at Wake Forest University, Western Carolina University andUNC Asheville, and as Chair of the UNC Board of Governors from 2015-18.
- Dr. Nicole Dobbins, an Associate Professor of Special Education at N.C. A&T State University and Vice Chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly.
- John Fraley of Mooresville, a member of State House from 2015-20 and a current member of the Board of Governors and Board Chair of myFutureNC.
- Isaiah Green, a former student-body president and recent graduate of UNC Asheville who served as the student member on the Board of Governors.
- Ann Goodnight of Cary, the Chair of the Goodnight Educational Foundation, board member of myFutureNC, trustee at NC State University and former member of the Board of Governors.
- Dr. Clifford A. Jones, Sr. of Charlotte, Senior Pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church since 1982 and former member of the Winston-Salem State University Board of Trustees.
- Gary Locklear of Pembroke, a retired Superior Court judge and former member of the UNC Pembroke Board of Trustees.
- State Sen. Gladys Robinson of Greensboro, 1st Vice Chair of the NC Legislative Black Caucus and former member of the Board of Governors.
- Karen Popp of Chapel Hill, the first female student body president in the UNC System, a partner in the global law firm Sidley Austin LLP, former Associate White House Counsel to President Bill Clinton and former Chair of UNC Charlotte’s Board of Trustees.
- Cressie Thigpen, Jr. of Raleigh, a former Special Superior Court judge, judge on the NC Court of Appeals, first African-American President of the NC State Bar and former Chair of the NC Central University Board of Trustees.
- John L. Townsend III of New York, a native of Lumberton who spent his professional career with Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Goldman Sachs and Tiger Management, served on the Board of Trustees at UNC-Chapel Hill and is the current Chair of the UNC Investment Fund, which manages the endowments of UNC-Chapel Hill and other UNC institutions.
- Brad Wilson of Raleigh, CEO Emeritus of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, who served on the Board of Governors for 16 years, four of them as Chair.
The group’s first meeting is scheduled for December 14 in Raleigh.
HIGHER ED WORKS’ SERIES ON UNIVERSITY GOVERNANCE in 2020 shed light on the UNC System’s governance troubles.
Prominent North Carolinians – some of them now members of the Governance Commission – who contributed to the series seemed to arrive at a consensus on the needs of an effective UNC System:
- Stability: There simply have been too many departures from key leadership positions – from the System President to campus Chancellors to Chairs of the Board of Governors – in recent years. Institutions need stable leadership to achieve ambitious goals. Revolving-door chief executives tend to signal turmoil on their governing boards.
- Depoliticize the appointment process: The 24 members of the UNC Board of Governors are chosen entirely by the General Assembly. Winston-Salem businessman Don Flow said politics need to be removed from choosing board members.
“If it is not depoliticized, I believe the UNC System will be significantly and permanently diminished. A politicized process creates dual loyalties that result in a lack of institutional alignment,” Flow wrote.
- Look like North Carolina: Former Board of Governors Chair Lou Bissette said the current Board doesn’t.
“This is a diverse state, but we don’t have a diverse Board,” he wrote. Of the Board’s 24 current members, only three live west of Charlotte, only six are women, and just one is a Democrat.
- Independence: Bissette and Belle Wheelan, President and CEO of the agency that accredits all 16 UNC institutions, both pointed out that board members’ duty is to the institution – not to the politicians who appoint them.
“The University System’s Board of Governors owes its fiduciary duty to the System,” Bissette wrote. “Its duty of loyalty is to the institution it represents, not the institution that appoints its members, the General Assembly.”
- Stop micromanaging: Wheelan, Flow and former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl said members’ role is to shape broad policy – not to manage day-to-day university operations.
“We ask you to make policy,” said Wheelan. “Not to administer policy, but to make policy…. When boards start micromanaging, you’re stepping out of your lane and it gets my attention.”