RALEIGH (March 16, 2023) – And to further diversify the UNC Board of Governors, the NC Senate offers (drum roll, please): Two more white male Republican former legislators.
A state Senate committee unveiled the chamber’s nominees for the Board of Governors this week. It includes four current members – Temple Sloan III, Michael Williford, Mark Holton and former senator Joel Ford. And two new members: Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown of Onslow County, and former senator and county commissioner Haywood “Woody” White III of New Hanover County.
Failure to reflect North Carolina’s makeup on the Board of Governors has been a weakness for years.
The current 24-member board consists of six women – 25% – even though women account for well over half the students in the UNC System. It has four Black members, or 17%, even though 21% of students in the UNC System are Black.1 And it includes exactly one Democrat – Ford.
Meanwhile, NC State University’s 13-member Board of Trustees has just one female member, even though 52% of its students are female. Of the 17 institutions in the UNC System, only UNC Greensboro – once known as “Woman’s College” – has more women than men on its Board of Trustees.2
“There are no women on here,” Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, said of the Senate’s slate of appointees. “The majority of the students in the UNC system are women, yet the Board of Governors has very few women on it. It also does not have many minorities on it.”
“This is a very diverse state,” Robinson said. “The university system is a very diverse system. And we need to have a better representation.
“I’m not saying these (nominees) aren’t good people,” she said. “But there are perspectives that they cannot present, represent, because they don’t understand those perspectives.”3
EVEN A REPUBLICAN FORMER CHAIR of the board that governs the 17-campus UNC System sees weaknesses in the board’s makeup.
“A perfect Board of Governors is one that looks like North Carolina,” former BOG chair Lou Bissette wrote in our “Making Governance Work” series in 2020.
“This is a diverse state, but we don’t have a diverse Board. Of the Board’s 24 voting members, only two live west of the Charlotte area, only three are persons of color, and only five are women (in 2020).
“A governing board should reflect the interests of the people it represents. Geographically and demographically, it should look like our student body and the people of our state. That’s how we make sure all voices are heard and our policies are broadly supported and sustainable,” Bissette wrote.
“The biggest gap, however, between a board that looks like our state and the current board, is political. When I first started serving, Democrats and Republicans were just about equally represented on the Board of Governors. It functioned effectively. But today (in 2020), the Board has no Democrats. That is simply not representative of our state and of the citizens we serve.
“Second, a perfect Board of Governors is one that is independent, or as close to independent as a public body can be.… The University System’s Board of Governors owes its fiduciary duty to the System. Its duty of loyalty is to the institution it represents, not the institution that appoints its members, the General Assembly.”4
So come on, North Carolina Senate. Can we please join the 21st century?
1 https://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/doc.php?id=67063&code=bog, p. 16.