A new website and social media campaign is highlighting the political and financial connections of members of the UNC Board of Government.
“The UNC System has long been a national model for public higher education, and furthermore is an economic engine that fuels North Carolina’s reputation for being a leader in the south,” said Daniel Gilligan, Executive Director of Real Facts North Carolina. “It’s essential to uncover why the current leadership of the system is characterized by personal in-fighting, profiteering, and mismanagement.”
The site includes brief biographies of all of the board’s 26 members and the ability to sort them by categories like political affiliation (22 Republicans, four unaffiliated), whether they were appointed by the N.C. House or N.C. Senate, which are former lawmakers, which are lobbyists and real estate developers.
Under the “Follow the Money” tab on the website there are breakdowns of campaign contributions from board members to the North Carolina Republican Party, N.C. Senate President Phil Berger and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore as well as former Gov. Pat McCrory and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.
The site also details various board controversies, from its handling of the controversy over and eventual toppling of the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument to the ouster of East Carolina University Chancellor Cecil Staton and resignations of UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and UNC System President Margaret Spellings.
The information on the site all comes from publicly available data and from stories reported by outlets such as WRAL, The News & Observer, The Daily Reflector, The Daily Tarheel and N.C. Policy Watch.
“It’s been well reported in other places but seeing it all in one place shows you there’s a much stronger narrative here,” said Gilligan.
UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said he had heard about the website but hasn’t yet had the chance to examine it.
“I don’t think the personal attacks are helping anybody or either side,” Smith said in an interview with Policy Watch Monday. “Health care and education are facing some big challenges right now in North Carolina and I think that’s what we should remain focused on.”
It’s fair to scrutinize the board of governors as a body whose members are appointed by the General Assembly, Smith said. But focusing only on the current, Republican dominated board and its connections to Republican politicians doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Historically, when the legislature was controlled by Democrats and there was a majority of Democrats on the board, what was the makeup then and what did the political giving look like?” Smith said. “I think that’s how you would get a fair look at it and I don’t know that you get that from a snapshot.”
Whether board members giving large contributions to the GOP and the Republican state leaders who appoint them is a bad thing would be for the public to decide for themselves, Smith said.
“At the end of the day people supporting people who are supporting policies they respect and think are taking us forward isn’t a bad thing,” Smith said. “That’s my personal opinion.”
Asked whether the absence of any registered Democrats on the board is a weakness, Smith demurred.
“I think balance is a healthy thing,” Smith said. “What I have tried to do — and whether I’ve done a good job on it is maybe a fair conversation — is not look at Ds and Rs on the board of governors. I try and look at doing the right thing.”
“The board of governors is chosen by the legislature,” Smith said. “I’m not apart of that process.”
The emphasis on the current board and its political connections was necessary because it has deviated from its essentially non-partisan history since 2010, Gilligan said, becoming increasingly political in the way it makes policy for the whole system and increasingly involving itself in governance even at the campus level.
The fact that Margaret Spellings — a former Secretary under President George W. Bush — clashed with board members and was considered insufficiently conservative is very telling, Gilligan said.
The website is a starting point for an ongoing campaign to create more transparency on a body that controls about $3 billion a year but chafes at public accountability, Gilligan said. The board “pretty actives discourages transparency and accountability” through trying to keep faculty and students out of their meetings, Gilligan said.
Social media will be big part of the ongoing campaign to throw more light on the board’s connections and actions, Gilligan said. The “Meet the BOG” campaign has presences on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.