RALEIGH (February 8, 2023) – UNC-Chapel Hill will soon be asked to explain its Board of Trustees’ move to create a new program without consulting its faculty, the president of the University’s accrediting agency said yesterday.
“We’re waiting for them to explain that, because that’s kind of not the way we do business,” Belle Wheelan, President of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), told a panel studying ways to improve governance of the UNC System.
Wheelan said her agency – which accredits colleges and universities in 11 Southern states – started asking questions after reports that the UNC-Chapel Hill board pushed to create a new School of Civic Life and Leadership without first consulting with the university’s faculty or administration.1
Specifically, the board’s resolution “requests that the administration of UNC-CH accelerate its development of a School of Civic Life and Leadership, potentially nested within an existing college or school.”2
But Wheelan said development of new programs is the responsibility of the faculty.
“The institutions hire faculty because they are the experts in the curriculum,” she said. “That’s why we think new programs should come from the faculty.”
The accreditors have questions of UNC-Chapel Hill’s board: “How come you’re in the curriculum when you have a faculty?” Wheelan said.
If SACSCOC doesn’t receive adequate answers, she said, it could send a team to help the university deal with governance issues or place the institution on “warning” status.
WHEELAN MADE HER COMMENTS as part of a broader discussion of the proper role for board members with the UNC Governance Commission appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper after multiple instances of poor governance in the UNC System.
The UNC Board of Governors is appointed by state legislators, and the Board of Trustees at each of the 17 campuses is appointed by the legislature and the Board of Governors.
Board members’ role is to hire an executive, and if necessary, fire that executive; and to ask questions, Wheelan said.
“Eyes in, hands off,” she said.
In a slide entitled “What a Board Member is NOT,” she listed:
- Solver of all problems;
- One who is able to decide – only the full board can make decisions; or
- One who runs the institution.
When a board member hears complaints, “You should not try to fix it. Your first response should be, ‘Have you talked to the president?’” Wheelan said. “That’s why you have a president.”
THE GOVERNANCE COMMISSION also received data on the lack of diversity on UNC System boards.
A team from The College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College found that women and racial minorities are underrepresented on university boards.
Though women account for more than half the system’s students, they account for only 1/4 of Board of Governors members and 1/3 of campus trustees. (Though UNC Greensboro, which started as a women’s college, is a notable exception.)
Commission member Ann Goodnight, the only female on NC State’s Board of Trustees at a school where 52% of students are female, said NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson has recommended other women as board members.
“He wasn’t heard,” she said.
Former Board of Governors Chair Lou Bissette of Asheville also noted that only one member of the Board of Governors lives west of Charlotte.
Similarly, the Davidson team found that Republicans account for 2/3 of the UNC Board of Governors, but just 1/3 of the state’s voters. The political affiliations of campus trustees, though, tend to reflect the partisan makeup of the state.
COMMISSION MEMBERS ALSO DISCUSSED board size, term length and partisan representation.
Commission and Board of Governors member John Fraley said that when he served in the NC House, he supported the reduction of the Board of Governors from 32 members to 24.
But Fraley said he would now support increasing the board back to 32 members, with the additional 8 seats to be filled by the minority party in the General Assembly.
Board of Governors members currently serve as many as three 4-year terms, with appointments by the legislature staggered every two years. Former Board Chair Brad Wilson said that means the board could lose 1/3 of its members every two years.
“That’s too much institutional memory going out the door at the same time,” Wilson said.
Commission Co-Chair and former UNC System President Tom Ross said officials could also consider a single 8-year term for board members so that they don’t have to worry about being reappointed by legislators.
“Something longer than four years might create more independence,” Ross said.
State Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, said candidates should also have experience in higher education. “It is governed differently than corporate America,” she said.
Several recent Board of Governors members have been lobbyists. Robinson and other commission members asked whether the state could prohibit lobbyists – whose livelihood depends on the legislators who appoint them – from serving on the Board of Governors.
“It just conflicts all the way around,” Robinson said.
Eric Fletcher, general counsel in the governor’s office, told the commission the state could in fact prohibit members of certain professions from serving on the board. State employees are prohibited from serving on certain state boards, he said.
Geographic diversity requirements also occur – the board at the NC School of Science and Mathematics must have representatives from each of the state’s congressional districts, for example.
Requirements for representation of minority political parties also exist, as they do on state and local election boards, Fletcher said.
But race and gender requirements are the most likely to be challenged in court, he said.