RALEIGH — Today’s emergency meeting of the UNC Board of Governors, where a possible successor to outgoing president Tom Ross will be interviewed, has been called an attempt to bypass a law enacted by the General Assembly requiring more transparency in the selection process, leading several board members to call for the resignation of board chairman John Fennebresque.
After Ross was fired in January, Fennebresque excluded the board from providing input into choosing Ross’ successor, along with failing to provide Ross with the due process of a performance review, board member Marty Kotis told Carolina Journal.
The demand that Fennebresque resign was triggered after he announced today’s meeting, which several board members and prominent legislators see as an attempt to avoid compliance with Senate Bill 670. The bill, which passed Sept. 30 but has not been signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, requires three candidates for the system’s president to be presented to all members of the BOG for consideration.
Several board members expressed their frustration openly. “Because of the way you have handled yourself and run this board, many of us would not be surprised by a motion to pick your single candidate of choice tomorrow and announce that person,” wrote board member Thom Goolsby in an Oct. 15 email to Fennebresque. “It is sad it has come to this situation, but it is indicative of the lack of trust as a result of your actions as chairman and the secretive search process.”
The General Assembly also sent an Oct. 15 letter to the BOG, restating protocols laid out in S.B. 670, and cautioning against an attempt to circumvent the legislation.
“Our concern is not about any candidate for the presidency but rather the process by which at least a few members of the Board have utilized that appears to cut against the fundamental notions of transparency and procedural due process,” wrote Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, in the letter. Fennebresque, who was appointed to the board in 2011 by the GOP-led Senate, was elected chairman last year.
“Please understand that any action or process undertaken by the board that goes against the will of the elected members of the General Assembly would not be viewed favorably and would undermine the trust the General Assembly has placed in the board,” the letter continued.
Earlier today, the News & Observer of Raleigh reported that the leading candidate appears to be Margaret Spellings, former U.S. education secretary in the George W. Bush Administration. A high-profile hire, Spellings’ placement as president would prove to be a “game changer,” said board member David Powers in an email. Powers added he thinks Spellings may not have much success with the board if she is viewed as the “chairman’s choice.”
Kotis, who has challenged Fennebresque’s actions in the past, views the scheduling of the emergency meeting as a direct affront to the legislature, and yesterday filed a formal objection.
“There has been no emergency identified by the chairman or any member of the staff that requires immediate action or the shortened notice,” wrote Kotis. “The chairman has contrived this ‘emergency’ as a subterfuge to circumvent Senate Bill 670 which will become law on October 31, 2015, absent a gubernatorial veto.”
“If we are not provided three candidates, several of us will be severely disappointed in the process,” Kotis told CJ.
The BOG’s meeting will convene at 1 p.m. on the SAS campus in Cary. The meeting, which is technically open to the public, will move into closed session for actual review of the candidate in question, according to the meeting’s agenda.
Kari Travis (@KariLynnTravis) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.