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UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque at the Feb. 2015 meeting. (Photo taken by Sarah Ovaska)

UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque. (Photo taken by Sarah Ovaska)

The N.C. Senate made their choices Wednesday for appointments to the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors. The House will vote on their slate of candidates tomorrow.

Several of the 30 candidates vying for the 16 open slots on the UNC Board of Governors have also been significant contributors to political campaigns, with more than $1 million in contributions coming from the nominees and their immediate family members.

The new members will join the board at the start of the next fiscal year, on July 1.

John Fennebresque, the chair of the UNC Board of Governors who was reappointed on Wednesday, has personally written more than $250,000 in checks to state political campaigns since 2007. (Click here to read my report from earlier today about the connection between the UNC Board of Governors and political campaigns.) Read More

Commentary

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser. In background is the Old Well.In case you missed it, be sure to check out the thoughtful essay written for the group Higher Education Works by former UNC chancellor James Moeser yesterday.

In it, Moeser laments the morale-busting policies of the current state political leadership:

“My point here is not to re-litigate the closing of the Poverty Center at UNC Chapel Hill, the Center for Biodiversity at East Carolina University, or the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at N.C. Central University; or the abrupt dismissal without explanation of President Tom Ross.  Rather, it is to focus on the collateral damage to the university from these actions and from statements from people in high places that suggest a lack of support for academic freedom, a lack of understanding of the real purpose of a public university.”

In holding up a recent letter to Raleigh’s News & Observer by Professor Joseph Ferrell, Moeser also says this:

“Joe Ferrell speaks of the ‘right of inquiry that lies at the very foundation of the university.’  That is the right to speak truth to power, to question the assumptions and the motives of those in power, and yes, to advocate for action and change.  It is that tradition that has made Carolina one of America’s truly great universities.  It was, indeed, the pioneering work of people like Howard Odom and Frank Porter Graham, viewing the racism and poverty of the South through the critical lens of scholarship, that allowed North Carolina to surpass all other Southern states.  It was the courage to do that work, often unpopular at the time, that led North Carolinians to love UNC.

Charles Kuralt famously asked the question, ‘What binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well, or the bell, or the stone walls, or the crisp October nights and the memory of dogwoods blooming. . . . No, our love for this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the University of the People.’

Now, I believe, it is time for the people to come to the aid of their university, so that it may continue as a place of free expression and free inquiry, with a positive climate in which great faculty and students can thrive for the benefit of all North Carolinians.”

Amen.

Commentary

UNCNC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska is on the scene in Charlotte today so be sure to follow her tweets at @SarahOvaska as the UNC Board of Governors takes up multiple major controversies. Meanwhile, if you’d like to get a better handle on what the board ought to be doing today, be sure to read these two pieces:

#1 is NC Council of Churches contributor Steve Ford’s excellent essay which was posted on the main Policy Watch site on Wednesday: “UNC Board of Governors should reject recommendation to close poverty center.” To quote:

“The Board of Governors committee that now calls for abolishing the poverty center may have done its perceived bidding. The full board, however, would do well to acknowledge the reality that Gene Nichol as a tenured law professor won’t easily be silenced. The board’s wise play would be to show some healthy independence from legislative pressure and to extend the center’s lease on life, in full recognition of how it helps the university system carry out its public service mission.”

#2 is the lead editorial in today’s Charlotte Observer: “Tough times for UNC system.” As the Observer rightfully notes: Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

This year’s Super Bowl Sunday shed new light on the for-profit college industry after advocates took to twitter to share the latest disturbing facts about the industry’s practices. The Super Bowl was held in the University of Phoenix Stadium, which is named for the largest for-profit college in the country. The university agreed to pay more than $150 million over 20 years for the naming rights on the new stadium in 2006.

In the past year, greater scrutiny of for-profit colleges, those that are managed by companies accountable to shareholders and, or publicly traded, has led to a series of legal actions and rising concern from policymakers about the role of these institutions in a context in which post-secondary attainment is the path to the middle class.

The problems with for-profit colleges are many. First, they tend to cost students at least three and half times as much as the same education at a community college. Second, their students are more likely to leave a program without a degree but with a significant level of debt. Leading to the next issue that default rates are far higher among students who attended for-profit institutions relative to their share of the total population: for-profit students represent 12 percent of all enrolled and 44 percent of those who default on their student loans.

Now, new data secured by the Center for Investigative Reporting shows that taxpayers are subsidizing the for-profit college industry to the tune of $9.5 billion a year. This is because the majority of for-profit institutions rely on public funds through Pell Grants, Stafford loans and various military tuition assistance programs to fund their operations. In fact, the analysis finds that more than 90 percent of these institutions’ revenue is from public funds. Read More

News

The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors pushed out the head of the state’s university system on Friday, sparking a search for a new leader of the 17-campus system.

Tom Ross, who had served as president since 2011, will remain in the president’s role until January 2016, while a national search is underway for his successor.

tom-ross

UNC President Tom Ross

Precise reasons for his announced departure weren’t articulated Friday, other than statements from UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque about the board’s general desire for a transition to a new leader.

The UNC Board of Governors met for close to two hours in closed session before announcing the changes.

“The board felt like at the appropriate time there should be a transition to a new president,” Fennebresque said, in comments to reporters.

Fennebresque also disputed media reports that Ross’ age was a factor. Ross is 64, and prior UNC system presidents had left their positions at 65. Ross said he was interested in working past that, and had hoped to continue in the job leading the public university system.

“I love it and I would love to be here forever,” Ross said.

Ross’ new terms of employment with the university system includes a salary of $600,000 for the next year, a tenured position at the UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government and $300,000 for a year to conduct research following his expected 2016 departure from the president’s office.

Conversations about Ross’ termination only began this week, Ross said, and he wasn’t made aware of any single event or issue that turned the Board of Governors against him.

Fennebresque went to lengths at a press conference with reporters to emphasize that Ross had been a strong leader that had the support of the board of governors, despite Friday’s announcement that the board wanted to part ways.

“This board believes Tom Ross has been a wonderful president,” Fennebresque told reporters Friday after the announcement about Ross. “Fantastic work ethic, perfect integrity.”

Ross’ departure was announced Friday after months of speculation about his future after his relationship with the UNC Board of Governors became more fraught.

Ross came to the UNC system after serving as the president of the private Davidson College. He previously had worked as a judge, the head of the state’s administrative office for the courts, and the executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a Winston-Salem based group that funds several progressive nonprofits in the state. (Note: the N.C. Justice Center, which N.C. Policy Watch is a part of, receives annual funding from ZSR.)

He led the university through a period of rapid change, and significant budget cuts. The university system received more than $400 million worth of cuts in 2011,

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