The UNC Board of Governors’ Task Force on the Purpose of UNC General Administration had its first meeting Monday morning.
Task Force C0-Chairman Bob Rucho called the task before it “massive” – to determine whether the UNC system’s administration is doing everything it should, to eliminate anything it shouldn’t be doing and to find ways to make it all more efficient and less expensive.
The task force has a road map for its work – the Report on Organizational Effectiveness done by the Boston Consulting Group back in 2015 and presented in March of last year.
The report, for which UNC President Margaret Spellings helped raise private funding when she was first installed, was the result of more than 150 interviews and suggested 15 improvements. Many of those were broad fairly abstract – among them “institute a holistic approach to institutional and system performance management.”
Rucho said it’s time to “put a little meat on the bone” of that study’s recommendations, and to do new interviews with stakeholders in the system for a report to the full board that will come three months from now.
“Our goal is to get our students graduated in a timely manner with the least amount of debt, and that includes lowering tuition which is one of the goals that this Board of Governors,” Rucho said.
Everything that can help accomplish those goals will be considered, Rucho said – including a restructuring of how the UNC General Administration works and and what its responsibilities will be going forward.
“What do we want them to do?” Rucho said. “Are there areas we shouldn’t be participating in anymore? Maybe they should be sent down the university level, to do the work we’re doing now?”
Monday comes amid a series of skirmishes between the Board of Governors, UNC Chancellors and administration – including Spellings herself. Students and faculty have criticized the board as too partisan, with a particularly conservative group of new board members – Rucho among them – moving to aggressively make changes the GOP dominated state legislature.
Late last month Spellings sounded off on the tensions in an interview with WRAL.
“Let me manage the enterprise, and let them set policy,” Spellings said in the interview “Let them see, understand and defer to the chancellors and me, who have a lot of experience.”
Board members seemed eager Monday to minimize their disagreements with Spelling and the administration, attributing them to inaccurate and unfair press coverage and pledging support to the embattled president.
Board Vice-Chairman Harry Smith derided “editorial attacks” on the board as “childish at best.”
“We’re behind our president,” Smith said.
“We’re going to support her,” Smith said. “I think it’s important to understand that we’re going to support her in the fact that she may have strong views and opinions that she needs to express that may not align with the board of governors.”
Rucho said tensions between Spellings and the board are not anything unusual.
“I think it’s always natural,” Rucho said. “When you have a board of directors and a manager in a private business, there’s always disagreements. The ultimate goal is the policy makers, who are the Board of Governors in consultation with the president establish a policy we all agree upon and move forward in the best interests of the institution.”
There was little indication Monday as to what policies – or policy changes – the task force might recommend. There was some discussion of reports and other work that might be unnecessary for general administration to continue carrying out. Much of the general administration’s work – about 58 percent, according to a report heard by the board – is mandated by state or federal statute.
In a few months, Rucho said, when the task force has had the chance to submit its findings, the board may be in a position to ask the North Carolina General Assembly to change some of those requirements.
“I believe with the attitude of the General Assembly today, if we could make the course that a report is either no longer relevant or a duplicate effort, there’s room to be able to modify it,” Rucho said.
Rucho was himself one of the most powerful – and most combative – Republican lawmakers in the state. A Republican from Matthews, he served for 17 years in the legislature, where he held key leadership roles and was an architect of political redistricting plans struck down as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.
His rhetoric – which included frequent attacks on the media and comparisons of liberals to Nazis and terrorists – sometimes even brought him into conflict with the leadership of his own party.
True to form, Rucho dismissed criticisms of some of the recent actions of the Board of Governors as “overstated” and the result of the ignorance of those in the press who haven’t closely followed what the board has done.