An independent study, commissioned by the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, has made five key recommendations on how to improve the UNC system, including allowing the governor to appoint members to the UNC Board of Governors.
Other recommendations of the report, released recently by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, include retaining the Board of Governors, delegating more powers to the individual campuses’ board of trustees, ensuring a more proactive Board of Governors, and reducing the board’s size from 32 to 15 members.
Phyllis Palmiero, an education consultant and former head of Virginia’s higher education system, wrote the study. Currently, Board of Governors members are selected by the N.C. General Assembly. An adherence to an agenda set by the governor is not seen in the UNC system, she said.
“Right now, with legislators selecting every member on the UNC Board of Governors, often with more regard to local consideration than statewide needs, there is no comprehensive vision, no statewide leadership, no clear accountability,” Palmerio writes.
When a governor appoints the members to a board, the members are more accountable to statewide needs than to the needs of individual areas, she said.
“It is much easier for a board to be proactive when a governor appoints them and gives them a mandate to address critical issues consistent with a broad state vision,” Palmerio said. “The current structure, where the governor has no formal authority over higher education in North Carolina, makes this impossible.”
ACTA President Anne Neal said the formula for having the governor select the Board of Governors members follows a lay leadership style of government.
“The power to appoint is the power to lead,” Neal said. “If higher education is to have statewide leadership, that can only come from the higher elected official, the governor.”
Reduction of the board from 32 members to 15 would make the board easier to work with, Palmerio said. In the current configuration, most of the board’s work is done by de facto boards in the committees with board members rubber stamping the decisions during the full board meeting.
Palmerio said reducing the board’s membership can be done by eliminating positions when current terms expire.
“An oversized board diffuses responsibility and makes meaningful discussion difficult,” Palmerio wrote. “… A smaller board would focus on central issues, allow thorough discussion, and increase each member’s accountability.”
Palmerio also said the individual boards of trustees have little authority over their campuses with little input in the hiring, firing, and compensation of senior staff members, including the chancellor. The role of boards of trustees has received attention in the legislature this session. A provision in the Senate’s state budget would give UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University authority to set their own tuition rates.
“Institutional authority should be devolved to the campus-based boards of trustees, with the Board of Governors responsible for general oversight,” Palmerio wrote. “This would remove a significant amount of ordinary business off the Board of Governor’ agenda, empowering it to spend more time on the systematic, big picture.”
Shannon Blosser ([email protected]) is a staff writer with the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Chapel Hill.