News: CJ Exclusives

UNC board members blindside colleagues with list of resolutions

Suggestions include tuition cuts at all campus and streamlining meetings to get more accomplished

UNC Board of Governors member Thom Goolsby, featured at center, was one of four members to propose drastic changes to UNC governance on Sept. 7, 2017. (CJ Photo by Kari Travis)
UNC Board of Governors member Thom Goolsby, featured at center, was one of four members to propose drastic changes to UNC governance on Sept. 7, 2017. (CJ Photo by Kari Travis)

CHAPEL HILL — In a session filled with cutting debate and rapid-fire resolutions, several members of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors on Thursday issued a litany of significant proposals, stunning some members who weren’t told about the plan.

A handful of board members recommended cutting tuition and fees at all universities, cleaning out and reorganizing UNC General Administration staff, moving administrative offices out of Chapel Hill, and overhauling the structure of board meetings.

The 28-person board, down from 32 members last year, is stunted by bad communication habits, said board member Tom Fetzer. The former mayor of Raleigh and chairman of the N.C. Republican Party was appointed this year.

Fetzer’s complaint echoes longstanding concerns from lawmakers and public officials. Critics have said the body is too large and inefficient. Lawmakers voted to shrink the board from 32 to 24 members by 2019.

Downsizing will help only if the board reorganizes. Twenty-four is still an unwieldy number, and many members often feel like “rubber stamp” employees, said Philip Byers, who joined the board in 2015.

Fifteen members — Byers included — recently penned a letter criticizing UNC President Margaret Spellings and board Chairman Lou Bissette for excluding them from communications with Gov. Roy Cooper in late August.

Spellings and Bissette wrote Cooper the day before a protest against Silent Sam, a statue memorializing Confederate soldiers on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. The leaders asked Cooper to boost police presence during the demonstration and to convene the N.C. Historical Commission to decide the fate of the monument.

The letter was tone-deaf to the board’s actual opinion about treating campus unrest, Fetzer said in the letter.

Committee chairs were consulted, but most board members weren’t.

“These are good men and women around this table all trying to do the right thing,” Byers said. “I keep hearing today about [our] letter. That never would have existed if we got a phone call saying, ‘We’re sending a letter to the governor.’ I read about it in the paper. If I’m going to be a governor of this institution, we’re going to have to do a better job communicating.”

Such disorganization takes UNC’s focus off students, and that’s just wrong, he said.

The board passed four resolutions, one of which will “endeavor to reduce tuition and fees at all our member institutions while preserving and enhancing the quality of education provided therein.”

Others created committees to review the operations of the UNC General Administration and to study the potential for moving administrative offices to Research Triangle Park or Raleigh.

The final resolution, presented by Marty Kotis, proposed overhauls for board meetings.

Board members shouldn’t waste days and days on meetings, he said, when technology makes it possible for them to watch presentations in advance.

Additionally, campus leaders, while always welcome to watch or listen, shouldn’t be forced to come to meetings that waste their time.

UNC chancellors attend every board meeting but aren’t always called upon to answer questions.

“We want to do this in a productive manner, rather than sitting in the penalty box, or in the whack-a-chancellor area. We should be getting their input, whether it’s a discussion board, or one-on-one meetings to find out what’s critical to them, rather than just summoning them for us like a court.”