RALEIGH – More of the same.
That’s what this year’s appointments to both the University of North Carolina Board of Governors and campus Boards of Trustees appear to have given us.
After a week of turmoil and tension over relations between the Board of Governors’ chairman and resigning East Carolina University Chancellor Cecil Staton,1 state legislators reappointed 10 members of the Board of Governors and removed one of the board’s only African-American members.2
NC Senate leader Phil Berger called the Senate’s appointments a “vote of confidence” in the current board.3 And a headline on a summary of the appointments by WUNC-FM said: “A Look At The Not-So-New UNC Board of Governors.”
Once the new board is in place in July, 25 percent of its members will be women and 12 percent will be black. At the same time, nearly 60 percent of students in the UNC System are women and more than 20 percent are black.4
Appointments to the Board of Governors should avoid cronyism and reflect North Carolina’s geographic, gender, racial, political and philosophical diversity. Members should also have served on a campus board of trustees or have comparable experience.
But as legislators have moved over the past two years to shrink the size of the Board of Governors from 32 members to what will be a 24-member board come July 1, concerns have grown about a lack of diversity on both the UNC System board and campus boards of trustees.5
Officials should pay attention to recommendations from each campus regarding nominees they think are engaged and knowledgeable about their institution.
ECU Board of Trustees Chair Kieran Shanahan complained in recent weeks that Board of Governors Chair Harry Smith was ignoring trustees’ recommendations for trustee appointments.6 The Board of Governors’ list of nominees would leave the ECU board with no women, Shanahan said.
“What does it say to our student population — 58 percent of which are women — that your board slate fails to include any women, and that, if not corrected, there will be zero women on the ECU Board of Trustees?” Shanahan asked in a letter to the BOG’s governance committee. “What message will this send on recruiting a new chancellor?”
The following day, two women were added to the list of ECU trustee nominees.7
As the Board of Governors made its appointments to the campus boards Friday in Boone, two members voiced concerns about the lack of women and minorities among the appointees.
Anna Spangler Nelson pointed out that some Boards of Trustees still don’t reflect the demographics of their surrounding communities.
And Board Secretary Pearl Burris-Floyd noted that 56 percent of students at UNC System schools are women.
Yet among appointments by the General Assembly and the Board of Governors in 2017, she said, 71 percent of governing boards were male and 29 percent were female. This year, 69 percent were male and 31 percent were female.
“I believe that we should be sensitive and aware of the lack of women and the lack of minorities serving in these various positions,” Burris-Floyd said.
As for the 2 percent increase in female representation, “That may not seem like much. But when you look around this table and see the sprinkling of women and minorities … that 2 percent is a big push.”
“No process is perfect, but it is an improvement,” Burris-Floyd said.
As he reviewed this year’s appointments, David Powers, Chair of the Board’s Committee on University Governance, said the board will complete its trustee appointments at its May meeting.
“I hope we’ll see an increase across the System in diverse candidates,” Powers said.
At a news conference after the meeting, reporters raised questions about diversity among trustee appointments.
Smith noted that in 2017, the Board of Governors appointed four men each as trustees at ECU, UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State and UNC Wilmington.
“This time we worked really hard to improve that dynamic,” he said. “It was a very thorough process…. There was a lot of conversations, a lot of moving pieces.”
Smith said that trustees’ relationships sometimes cloud their ability to look at facts and data, and he acknowledged that trustees could use more training on university issues such as overhead receipts, parking receipts and athletics funding.
“We don’t train our trustees,” he said. “They have no knowledge – we just make ‘em a trustee.”