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.


The state House of Representatives tacked on a provision last night to a bill requiring public disclosure of three finalists for the ongoing search of the University of North Carolina’s next president.


The amendment, proposed by state Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat, was added on to a bill that would cap the terms members of the  UNC Board of Governors could serve. (Click here to read more about the term limits, and scroll down to watch video of Martin’s comments.)

It passed the House handily, 97 to 11.

Update,: The House, in another amendment, opted to strip the transparency measures out of the bill late Wednesday night. It also allowed the board to “appoint an interim President” for the UNC president.  

The bill now limiting the term limits of board members but without transparency measures went on to pass the House and Senate, and is now headed to McCrory’s desk. 

In addition to the posting of resumes and names of the candidates 10 days before any final decision, the amendment (click here to read) would also now require holding a public meeting about the final candidates.

A second vote on the proposal is scheduled for when the House convenes again at 11 a.m., and then Senate lawmakers would need to give their okay to the bill before it would head to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk to be signed.

The UNC Board of Governors is in the midst of a search for a new system president after dismissing current president Tom Ross last January, for reasons that have not been fully explained but speculation has pointed to political motivations.

Ross, a Democrat, had led the state’s higher education system since 2011, but the UNC Board of Governors he reported to changed drastically during his tenure, after Republicans took over both chambers of the legislature soon after Ross took the job.

The 32 members of the UNC Board of Governors now consist entirely of appointees from a Republican-controlled legislature.

Up until now, the search for the next UNC president has been cloaked in secrecy, despite faculty requests to open up the process and allow final candidates to meet with members of the faculty.

Read More


Note: This post has been updated to reflect information provided by the UNC system. 

A Senate bill capping the terms of members on the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors moved through a House Rules committee Monday, and could potentially shift at least two current members off the board, if passed.

UNCsystemAn individual could serve three, four-year terms (a total of 12 years) under Senate Bill 670, which was headed to the House floor and possible passage during what appears to be the final week of the legislative session.

The current UNC Board of Governors’ policy limits members to three consecutive, four-year terms, while the bill being proposed by Sen. Tom Apodaca would apply to both consecutive and non-consecutive terms.

The full House will vote on the measure tonight.

There are currently three members on the UNC Board of Governors who are in the midst of their third or fourth terms, according to information provided by the UNC system.

John Fennebresque, the chair of UNC Board of Governors and a Charlotte attorney, received a four-year apointment from 1995 to 1999, as well as appointments from 2011 to 2015, according to information provided by a UNC system spokeswoman . He was re-appointed to his third term this spring.

Craig Souza and Frank Grainger are serving their fourth terms on the board. Both men served three, four-year terms from 1997 to 2009. Grainger rejoined the board for his fourth term in 2011, and Souza re-joined in 2013.

Hannah Gage, a former board chair, was a voting member of the UNC Board of Governors from 2001 to 2013. She is now serving in a non-voting, emeritus position.

The state legislature is responsible for appointing all 32 members of North Carolina’s governing board for its public university system. That’s led to significant changes to how the board does business, now that all 32 members currently serving have gotten their appointments from Republican-dominated state legislature after decades of Democratic control.

Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, introduced the bill regarding the term limits and said Monday it would affect three of the board’s current 32 members if and when it became law.

He did not name the three individuals, and it’s unclear if he was referring to Souza, Grainger, Fennebresque or Gage.

State Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, an Apex Republican, voted against the bill, saying lawmakers could just choose not to reappoint those members, if they felt they had been in their positions too long.

“I’m just wondering why” legislation for term limits are needed, Stam said in committee Monday. “You don’t have to re-elect them to a fourth term.”

Read More


Things are apparently not going that well behind the scenes with the University of North Carolina system’s Board of Governors.

The 32-member board is in the midst of selecting a new president for the UNC system, and that process has some members grumbling, according to today’s piece from the News & Observer’s Jane Stancill.

From Stancill’s article:

The search for the next UNC system president has become bogged down with disagreements among UNC Board of Governors members and concerns about secrecy.

The board’s 11-member search committee met behind closed doors late Thursday to discuss its next steps. Last week, the committee interviewed about 10 candidates over a three-day period at meetings in Cary.

Board chairman John Fennebresque described the candidates’ quality as “superb,” but added that committee members hadn’t even started the hard part.

Apparently, they’ve hit the hard part.

Rumors have circulated that some candidates have dropped out, and board members not on the committee say they have been kept in the dark about progress of the search.

This week, a key member of the board, Jim Holmes, abruptly resigned his post as chairman of the board’s public affairs committee, saying that he was unfairly accused of meddling in the search by the head of the search committee.

You can read the entire piece here.

Also of note, the conservative John W. Pope Center for Higher Education also published an opinion piece of its own this week, criticizing the UNC Board of Governors for not making enough conservative-minded reforms.


University system leaders are happy with how they emerged in the state budget, saying they were grateful lawmakers opted to fund enrollment growth and other asks they had.

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, UNC Board of Governor, in file photo.

John Fennebresque, a Charlotte attorney who serves as the chair of University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors, called the $100 million overall increase for the university system “the best budget” since the Recession began in 2008.

Among the things lawmakers opted to fund in the two-year budget signed into law this afternoon by Gov. Pat McCrory were annual enrollment growth costs of $49 million, and earmarked dollars to vshore up East Carolina University’s medical school and Elizabeth City State University.

Chancellors will also be able to carry over financial savings they might find on their campuses to future years, in order to fund other priorities.

Those words of praise about the budget came despite the UNC system being handed $64.4 million in discretionary cuts over the next two years, and following nearly $500 million in cuts the system has weathered since 2010.

UNC system staff and faculty, like all state employees, also received a $750 bonus in the budget instead of any type of permanent salary adjustment.

Tom Ross, the president of the UNC system, said that he viewed the budget overall as a positive for the UNC system in comments he made during Friday’s meeting.

“Our enrollment was fully funded for both years,” Ross said, referring to the additional $49 million each year allotted to cover increasing numbers of students. “We’ve got to have the resources to educate the students when they come.”

Read More