RALEIGH — Senate Democrats, concerned that a bill to cut eight positions from the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors would boot minority members, on Monday made a final attempt to amend the legislation.
House Bill 39, which ultimately passed the chamber 38-7, proposes that the board be reduced from 32 to 24 members. The goal of the bill is to make board meetings and operations more efficient.
Democrats are skeptical, and last week delayed a final vote on the bill.
H.B. 39’s Feb. 20 hearing lasted more than an hour, with the Senate minority arguing that the system’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities would be hurt by the legislation.
Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, a former member of the Board of Governors, in an amendment asked senators to stipulate that board appointments include one HBCU graduate, one graduate from a university that does not grant doctoral degrees, one member “from a rural area of the state, two at-large members, and one member from the minority political party.
“We would still maintain diversity of thought in terms of where North Carolina needs to go,” she said. “What institutions can do that, what are their ambitions, what are their skills? Who do they represent?” she asked.
“This keeps that same diversity of our universities that has made us strong as a state and that has made us the strongest institution of higher education in the country.”
Republicans staunchly rebutted Robinson and others who supported the amendment.
Several senators mentioned the 2001 lawsuit filed against the state and the Board of Governors by Walter R. Davis — after whom the main library at UNC-Chapel Hill was named — because state law imposed quotas reserving some slots on the board for African-Americans and women. The lawsuit was settled before it went to trial and the university dropped the race- and sex-based quotas.
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Madison, brought a substitute amendment — staged to undermine attempts to change the legislation.
Hise’s amendment proposed that campus faculty members — in addition to members of the Board of Governors — be hired based on diversity of thought and balanced political opinions and party affiliations.
Hise’s plan would have subjected faculty members to annual reviews by the Board of Governors.
“A little ridiculous,” he said during the heated floor debate.
“We want to create these slots, these positions, for our Board of Governors, and ignore one of the large challenges to quality education. I’d like to be having a lot of debates back and forth about cost growth, graduation rates, even athletic scandals at our institutions, things we need to address. But what seems to be the most important issue is who fits what slot.”
The amendment failed 32-13.
The bill, which passed the House 108-4 and had the support of UNC system President Margaret Spellings, now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper.