UNC Board of Governors explain themselves

UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque at the Feb. 2015 meeting. (Photo taken by Sarah Ovaska)

UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque (Photo taken by Sarah Ovaska)

John Fennebresque, a Charlotte attorney who serves as chair of the UNC Board of Governors, responded this week to criticisms of recent decisions  to raise tuition, close three academic centers and get rid of its much-respected system president, Tom Ross.

In an editorial published Thursday by the Charlotte Observer, Fennebresque said the board was happy with Ross’ performance but wanted to bring a fresh perspective to the 17-campus system.

From Fennebresque’s editorial:

We recognize some of our recent efforts to move the University forward have generated criticism and concern for some. Our decision to raise tuition is as unpopular with the board as it is for the people of North Carolina, and it further illustrates the need to look closely at everything the University is doing.

As I have said previously, President Tom Ross has led the University with distinction throughout his tenure. Our decision to proceed with a leadership change had nothing to do with his performance, but simply reflects our belief that all great institutions can benefit from a change in leadership from time to time.

We will conduct a national search for the next UNC system president with great care. We intend to carry on the long tradition of selecting a president of the highest caliber to lead and build on UNC’s foundation of excellence.
Read more here.


The board is moving ahead with its presidential search, and this week chose nine members to serve on a nominating committee to select the members who ultimately will screen applicants.

Fennebresque said he hopes to have hired someone by this fall. Ross’ contract keeps him at the helm of the university system until 2016.

Fennebresque also responded to the closure of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, a decision that was denounced by faculty and others who allege the closure was to punish the center’s director, Gene Nichol, a tenured law professor who has penned editorials lambasting Republican lawmakers.

From Thursday’s editorial:

Of all 240 centers, the board voted unanimously to close three – each with very limited resources and narrow scopes. The Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at Chapel Hill has been the primary focus of media attention.

Let me emphasize the board strongly believes reducing poverty is a crucial need in North Carolina. We believe the University must remain actively engaged in creating jobs and opportunity for everyone. Indeed, other parts of the university system are actively engaged in combating poverty, including UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Social Work and Kenan-Flagler School of Business.

However, after careful review of the Center on Poverty – including an opportunity for the center director to fully describe its work – the board concluded the center was unable to demonstrate any appreciable impact on the issue of poverty. We concluded the center did not enhance the educational mission of UNC-Chapel Hill, did not work across disciplines to affect change, and did not have the financial support to sustain it.

Fennebresque is one of the 16 UNC Board of Governors whose current terms will end at the end of June.

He and eight others are seeking reappointment to the 32-member board from the state legislature, and votes in the House and Senate are expected by the end of the month.

Former state Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Republican Wilmington attorney who received attention for referring to the “Moral Monday” protests legislature as “Moron Mondays,” is also seeking a seat on UNC’s governing board.

To see the entire list of the nominees, click here.

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