By Jim Hunt
Every day during the 16 years I served as Governor, I saw how important the University of North Carolina system is to our state.
But today this great oak of higher education is suffering from a deep and growing disease within: too much narrow, partisan politics.
This is a Democratic and a Republican problem. Both Democrats and Republicans caused it. Democrats and Republicans must come together to fix it.
Our universities are invaluable in recruiting new businesses to North Carolina, promoting good jobs and economic growth in all our communities, fighting disease and poor health, advancing science, developing new technologies, making agriculture more productive, promoting the arts, learning from our history, understanding the world we live in and protecting our air, land and water from pollution.
Above all, our 16 universities educate, train and inspire thousands of people who become successful, productive and civic-minded citizens. The schools make North Carolina a magnet for smart, talented and dedicated people from all over the world.
That excellence is at risk today. The problem stems from how we appoint the Board of Governors – and each institution’s Board of Trustees.
The General Assembly makes all the appointments. But the legislature for too many years has been consumed by the bitterly divisive partisanship and polarization that plagues politics.
The partisan poison has spread into the University system. We must root it out.
While I don’t know exactly what the new appointment process should be, I do suggest certain principles that might apply.
First, no lobbyists should be on the Board of Governors. They have too many conflicts of interest.
Second, there should be more diversity – racial, gender, geographic and political.
Third, I personally believe the Governor should appoint one half of the members of the Board of Governors and the 16 universities’ boards of trustees. The Governor is elected statewide. He or she works every day on issues that affect the entire state. The Governor must take a broader view than legislators, who answer to their 170 districts.
The Governor can best see how the University system meshes with our public schools and community college system. The Governor’s involvement also would assure much-needed checks and balances.
Certainly, there are other good ideas that we should consider and we can begin by studying what other states do.
I don’t underestimate how hard it will be to solve this problem in these politically charged times.
But this is North Carolina!
We’ve solved tough problems before. We can do it here. For our universities’ future and for North Carolina’s future, we must do it.
James B. Hunt Jr. served as Governor of North Carolina from 1977-85 and 1993-2001.