Commentary, News
Koch brothers

Charles and David Koch – Image:

As multiple news outlets have reported of late, the controversial and conservative fossil fuel magnates Charles and David Koch have spurred a rising tide of controversy in recent years with dozens of gifts to universities around the nation. Moreover, as The Atlantic reported last month in “Spreading the Free-Market Gospel: What’s new and interesting about the Koch brothers’ approach to funding academics” there is clearly a method to their largess:

“Last year, a staffer for Charles and David Koch’s network of philanthropic institutions laid out the billionaire brothers’ strategy to spread their views on economic freedom.

Political success, Kevin Gentry told a crowd of elite supporters attending the annual Koch meeting in Dana Point, California, begins with reaching young minds in college lecture halls, thereby preparing bright, libertarian-leaning students to one day occupy the halls of political power.

‘The [Koch] network is fully integrated, so it’s not just work at the universities with the students, but it’s also building state-based capabilities and election capabilities and integrating this talent pipeline,’ he said.”

Click here to check out a database that demonstrates just how broadly their tentacles have already spread.

Edward Lopez

Prof. Edward Lopez

Now, comes word that the Kochs have offered to make a UNC system school — Western Carolina University in Cullowhee — one of their largest university gift recipients. Under a proposal currently under consideration by WCU administrators, the Charles Koch Foundation would give $2 million to the university to establish the WCU “Center for Study of Free Enterprise.” The faculty member driving the process appears to be Economics Department Professor Edward Lopez, who also boasts the title of “BB&T Distinguished Professor of Capitalism.” Lopez, who gave the “Friedman Legacy Lecture” this summer at the John Locke Foundation, is a graduate of the Kochs’ largest university grantee, George Mason University, and an energetic proponent of “free market” economic theories.

While accepting one of the Kochs’ largest gifts in the country to promote conservative economic theory is, for some, controversial in and of itself, what has added extra impetus to the debate at WCU in recent weeks is the fact that the grant is contingent upon the university kicking in another $1.4 million of its own. Read More

Commentary, News

App StateAs the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations convenes this morning to review, among other things, the generous new pay hikes provided to various UNC system chancellors, it’s increasingly clear that rank and file university personnel will get no more than the one-time, across-the-board $750 bonus authorized by the new state budget.

According to a post on the Facebook page Aaup Appalachian (AAUP stands for American Association of University Professors) the Human Resources Director at Appalachian State informed staff on the Boone campus last night that plans to supplement the bonus with another $750 out of university funds has been nixed by the lawyers:

“Dear Appalachian Colleagues,

On November 5, I sent you an email indicating that: “This year, the university has identified non-state funds to provide all SHRA employees with an additional campus-based $750 bonus, doubling the legislated bonus to $1,500.” It was my belief that providing these one-time lump sum bonuses was within our discretion, since we were not increasing base compensation and were not committing any State funds, and I advised our campus senior leadership accordingly.

With deep and sincere regret I must now inform you that I have recently been told by legal counsel that we are not allowed to make additional lump sum payments to employees subject to the State Human Resources Act (SHRA), above the legislated $750 bonus. Unfortunately, my interpretation of Appalachian’s ability to provide an additional bonus for SHRA employees was incorrect. Any such payments fall exclusively within the purview of the North Carolina General Assembly, regardless of the source of funding.”

The letter goes on to apologize profusely and acknowledge the sorry state of campus salaries.

At least the folks in Boone are keeping their (dark) sense of humor about the whole thing. This is from the intro to the Facebook post:

“Good news: The pay raises have been withdrawn!!
Bad news: Not the $50,000 raise for App State’s chancellor, but the $750 bonus for App State’s staff (in addition to the $750 bonus all employees are receiving)”


The pay for several chancellors in the University of North Carolina is going up, but system officials aren’t yet saying by how much.

The pay boost was authorized Friday during a two and a half-hour closed session of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors in Chapel Hill.

UNCsystemThe 32-member board did not take a vote on the pay changes in open session, a departure from the procedure required by law for most public bodies in the state.

Instead, it approved the pay changes through a “closed session authorization,” said Joni Worthington, a spokeswoman for the UNC system.

Responding to objections from several media outlets about the information being withheld and decisions being made outside of the public’s gaze, Worthington said the new salaries would be released once the chancellors are informed of their new salaries.

The pay changes comes several months after the board approved new salary ranges for chancellors and top administrators, a move that the board said would help UNC remain competitive with other higher education institutions.

It also comes a week after the board hired former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, offering her a compensation package with a base salary of $775,000 and much higher than the $600,000 her predecessor Tom Ross has made in his final year at UNC.

Meanwhile, rank and file employees of the 17-campus system have had a much different reality when it comes to pay, with little movement in own salaries since the start of the recession. University employees, like all state employees, will receive a $750 bonus this year as part of the budget passed this fall by the state legislature.

G.A. Sywassink, a UNC Board of Governors member who heads its personnel and tenure committee, said that he’d like to see about raises for other university staff “as soon as we can do it, as soon as we can make it happen.”

He said Spellings, when she starts in March, would be consulted about the desire to increase faculty and staff pay.

The pay increases for chancellors authorized in closed session were “fair and honest” and help the system keep valuable leaders in place, Sywassink said.

Generally, local public bodies like county commissions and city councils can only increase pay of employees when they take action in open session, said Frayda Bluestein, a law professor at the UNC School of Government who specializes in open meeting and public record issues.

Any decisions made in closed session are not valid, she said.

Bluestein couldn’t say if Friday’s action by the UNC board ran afoul of open meeting laws, because she was not intimately aware of how the governing board operates, but did say that salaries of public employees are always considered public records.

Worthington, the UNC spokeswoman, said the UNC system’s lawyer Thomas Shanahan felt the decision to make pay changes in closed session, and not open session, and then withhold that information for a period of time did not violate state public record and open meeting laws.

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

It’s a big day for the University of North Carolina system, and the state, with the official selection of the next president of the 17-campus system.

Margaret Spellings, who served as U.S. Education Secretary under President George W. Bush, is widely anticipated to be this afternoon’s choice.

She doesn’t have a background in higher education, but does have plenty of experience in navigating political waters.

Want to know more about how we got in this place, and how folks are feeling about this?

Here are some reads from the past year from various outlets to offer some context.

How did it all start? Outgoing UNC president Tom Ross was unexpectedly ousted from his job last January, for reasons surmised to be political but never really fully explained. He’ll stay on to this January, when the new president will take over.

UNC President Tom Ross

UNC President Tom Ross

Ross, a Democrat widely respected in his job leading the state’s university system, had been in the job since 2011, when he was chosen by a UNC Board of Governors made up of appointees from what was a state legislature dominated by Democrats.

Political winds shifted significantly in the state since then, with a Republican takeover that had many in the legislature urging a lot more belt-tightening and more focus on boosting the state’s economy than liberal arts.

Emails later released as part of a public records request (click here to read an N.C. Policy Watch article) showed that many of the board members were caught by surprise by Ross’ dismissal, and didn’t want to see him go.

Turns out that a lot of conservative politicians were happy to see Ross go, as the News & Observer explained in this article leaning on more emails released under public records law.

At the center of Ross’ termination has been John Fennebresque, the chair of the UNC Board of Governors and a Charlotte attorney

known for his brusque style. Here’s an excellent profile of Fennebresque by the Charlotte Observer’s Pam Kelley.

UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque

UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque

The search itself has been hampered by criticism of being too secretive, shutting out faculty and students, as well as members of the board and ignoring wishes of lawmakers.

The News & Observer’s Jane Stancill has broken several stories about this as relations on the board have imploded in recent weeks. Click here and here to read some of her work.

Faculty, who had been pushing from the beginning to meet with the presidential candidates in some capacity, issued a blistering statement yesterday, saying that the new president is going to have a tough time earning the trust of those working for her because of the secretive nature of the search. Not only that, but the professor group also said the UNC Board of Governors has repeatedly ignored advice from faculty, and made a series of decisions leaving the university system and state worse off.

Finally, just who is Margaret Spellings? The Chronicle of Higher Education had this article looking a lot deeper about how those who have worked with and around her feel about what she’ll bring to UNC.

In addition to her career in Texas and Washington, she served on the board of the Apollo Group, the parent company for the for-profit University of Phoenix and criticized a PBS children’s show in 2005 for featuring lesbian characters.

I’ll be at today’s meeting, tweeting about the meeting as well as a press conference with the new president-elect afterwards. Follow me here, @SarahOvaska.


The University of North Carolina’s Faculty Assembly issued a strongly worded statement Friday, saying that the system’s governing board has repeatedly ignored faculty input and pushed forward a secretive process to find a new leader.

(For more about the expected presidential announcement tomorrow, read my story from earlier today here.)

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

The Faculty Assembly, which represents professors and faculty and serves in an advisory capacity to the UNC system and UNC Board of Governors, warned that the new president opted not to meet with faculty during the search process, and could face difficulties in gaining the trust of faculty.

“The faculty will not prejudge the commitment of new President to the well-being of the University,” wrote Stephen Leonard and Gabriel Lugo, on behalf of the UNC system Faculty Assembly. “But he or she must understand that the secretive character of this search, and his or her own indifference to consulting with staff and faculty when s/he was an active candidate for the position, will make it difficult to win the confidence and trust of the University community.”

The statement also said the board has repeatedly ignored faculty input on admissions, tuition and financial aid and instead adopted “ill-advised policies and practices that have proven detrimental to the best interests of public higher education in this state.”

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