UNC System President on UNC Press controversy: “I’d certainly like to resolve the issue soon.”

UNC System President Peter Hans plans to talk to representatives from the UNC Press Board of Governors and the UNC Board of Governors’ University Governance Committee this week in an effort to resolve the conflict over the committee’s refusal to re-appoint UNC law Professor Eric Muller to the UNC Press Board of Governors

“I’d like to see it resolved as soon as possible,” Hans told Policy Watch Wednesday, between committee meetings of the UNC Board of Governors.

As Policy Watch first reported last month, the UNC Board of Governors refused to reappoint UNC law professor Eric Muller to the governing board of the UNC Press. The nonprofit press, established in 1922 as the first university press in the South and one of the first in the nation, exists to advance “the research, teaching, and public service missions of a great public university by publishing excellent work from leading scholars, writers, and intellectuals and by presenting that work to both academic audiences and general readers.”

UNC System President Peter Hans

Muller has served two five-year terms on the board of the Press and was unanimously reelected chairman earlier this year. During that time, he has been outspoken on the legality of the UNC System’s controversial handling of the Silent Sam Confederate monument and UNC-Chapel Hill’s failure to deal appropriately with sensitive issues of race and history. Sources directly involved in the appointment process tell Policy Watch that enmity from conservatives on the board of governors derailed Muller’s reappointment.

The decision has been met with wide condemnation, most recently from the UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Executive Committee.

Under the UNC Press Board by-laws, nominations for seats on the board come from the board itself. The chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill and the President of the UNC System must then transmit those names to the UNC Board of Governors. But as Hans told Policy Watch Wednesday, he submitted Muller’s name for reappointment along with two others only to be told the committee would not vote on Muller.

“I didn’t have discussions with board members about it,” Hans said. “But evidently the feedback was they were ready to move forward with the two names [besides Muller]. So I formally submitted the two names.”

That feedback came to Hans through his staff, he said, rather than personal conversations.

Some legal observers, including Muller himself, say that in  in submitting a second slate without Muller’s name Hans may have violated the UNC Press by-laws that govern the appointment process. There is not provision for the UNC Board of Governors to reject appointments without holding an up-or-down vote or to suggest, as the committee did, that the UNC Press board submit names besides those that come from its own process.

“This was a clear violation of the bylaws of the UNC Press,” Muller said in a Twitter post Tuesday.

In a Wednesday interview with Policy Watch, Hans said he doesn’t know why the committee declined to vote on Muller’s appointment.

“There was no discussion of why or…in order to fill those two slots, I formally submitted the two names,” Hans said.

Asked if he would be speaking to committee members, perhaps during Wednesday and Thursday’s board meetings, about their reasoning, Hans said he plans to.

“I certainly plan to,”  Hans said. “You know, it’s never a dull moment around here. A thousand things a day. But I certainly plan to.”

Hans said the ball is now in the court of the University Governance Committee.

“Once I have direction from the governance committee and the board I’ll certainly resubmit the name or submit another name – in, of course, consultation I would think, UNC Press,” Hans said.

The UNC Press does great work and needs a full board to continue it’s important mission, Hans said.

The Press board meets Wednesday afternoon and is expected to take up the issue then.

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