Search for UNC’s new president accelerating with two meetings this week

There’s still no official names (or name) to report, but the search for the University of North Carolina’s next leader appears to be winding up.

UNC system president Tom Ross (left) and John Fennebresque, UNC Board of Governor, in file photo.

UNC system president Tom Ross (left) and John Fennebresque, chair of the UNC Board of Governors, in file photo.

A search committee of UNC Board of Governors members are meeting twice this week, both meetings held in the Charlotte law firm where John Fennebresque, the board’s chair, works.

The meetings are technically open meetings, but the majority will be held in closed session to discuss “candidate review,” the only item on the agenda sent to media members Monday afternoon other than approval of minutes.

The first search committee will begin at 3:30 p.m. at the McGuireWoods law firm, 201 N. Tryon Street in Charlotte. The second meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the same location.

Any final decision about the UNC president needs made by the full 32-member UNC Board of Governors, which is scheduled to have its monthly meeting on Oct. 30 in Chapel Hill. The search committee is responsible for finding and recommending a candidate to the full board, and have long had October as a goal in making a final decision.

This weeks’ presidential search committee meetings comes after a meeting held last week on the Cary campus of SAS, and as some members of the UNC Board of Governors have expressed discontent with the search to replace Tom Ross, a Democrat unexpectedly ousted from his position last January in an effort spearheaded by Fennebresque. The UNC Board of Govenors consists entirely of those who have gotten their appointments from a legislature dominated by Republicans since 2010.

The state legislature also considered making the search process more transparent in its last few days of session.

Ultimately, lawmakers opted to sidestep public disclosure of the names of presidential candidates, but did pass a bill that would cap the number of terms a UNC Board of Governor member can serve at three, four-year terms. The current policy limits members to three consecutive terms.

UNC faculty are calling on Gov. Pat McCrory to veto the bill, calling it inappropriate interference from the legislature on the operations of the state’s public university system.

Steve Leonard, the chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly, wrote to McCrory last week urging him to veto the bill:

[T]he current provisions in S670 reforming term limits of the Board are clearly intended to sustain this intrusion into the Board’s activities, targeting the removal of certain Board members. Many faculty members are deeply critical of many of the Board’s actions and the failings of its leadership, most particularly in the lack of transparency, and failure to seek input from UNC stakeholders including the faculty, staff, students, alumni and other concerned citizens.

However, there is no possible circumstance in which the faculty would support laws that strengthen the legislature’s arbitrary power to dictate the composition of the Board, even to remove members with whom faculty might disagree. Further, even if the unfeasible claim that these provisions would protect legislators from intimidation by political donors vying for Board seats were true, the appropriate response is not a change in term limits, but to follow the more common governance practices of other states by removing the appointment authority from the legislature, and passing legislation that insulates higher education governance authorities from partisan political interests.


Click here to read the entire letter.

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