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.

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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.”

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An essay penned by a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill claiming a course at one of North Carolina’s flagship schools cast a favorable light on the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack has gone viral in the last week.

The freshman journalism student, Alec Dent, claimed in his essay published on the conservative news site College Fix that readings for the optional freshman seminar course “present terrorists in a sympathetic light and American political leaders as greedy, war hungry and corrupt.”

Problem is, as he told WRAL earlier this week, he didn’t actually take the class or read the listed materials.

UNC offers more than 80 seminar courses to its students but “Literature of 9/11” struck a chord with Dent. The course claims to explore a diverse number of themes related to the September 11 attacks, but for Dent it was not diverse enough.

“The class reading list is what first stuck out to me because it really got me thinking, is this a fair and balanced way of looking at the situation,” Dent said.

The freshman journalism major said that he looked at the reading list as well as the class syllabus before writing a piece for an online student publication called “The College Fix.”

Dent admits that he has not taken the class, nor has he read any of the books on the list, but he still felt the course was too one-sided.

“The more research I did into it, the more it seemed like the readings were sympathetic towards terrorism.”

A student who did do the reading and did take the class took issue with Dent’s description, saying that he enjoyed the class taught by Prof. Neel Ahuja, an associate professor in English at UNC, and found it was balanced.

Since Dent’s review was posted a week ago, it’s gone viral in conservative websites and media outlets, with outrage abounding.

Media Matters took a look at a Fox News segment, which had the header “Required Reading: UNC class sympathizes with 9/11 terrorists” and pointed out that the readings were not required, nor were they pushing a single point of view.

“In addition, the full list of assigned readings for the course does in fact contain diverse literature representing the perspectives of Arab-Americans, residents of New York City, members of the U.S. military and their families, survivors of the attacks, non-partisan terrorism researchers, artists, historians, musicians, and the international Muslim community, as well as several texts aimed to honor or memorialize victims of the attacks,” the Media Matters piece states.

Watch the Fox News segment for yourself below.


It’s certainly not the highest-profile issue, but the new $21.74 billion state budget (whenever it does get passed) could usher in a new approach to higher education in the state.

Earlier House and Senate versions of the budget endorsed giving Western Governors University, an online-based higher education system, a bigger footprint in the state, and one propped up with taxpayer money.

At this point, there are more questions than answers about what will end up in the final state budget, with House and Senate lawmakers now two months behind issuing a budget for the next two years.


WGU headquarters in Utah

Western Governors University, or WGU, is a non-profit online college, started in 1995 by a bipartisan group of governors in the western part of the country. It specializes in reaching out to “part-way home” students, those that had taken some college courses but because of life or family choices before obtaining a degree.

(Click here to read a previous article about WGU’s foray into North Carolina.)

It costs students approximately $3,000 for unlimited classes during a 6-month period and uses a competency-based model, where students can get credits for classes if they already know the material and can pass a test showing that.

Here in North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory is in favor of bringing WGU to the state, and had a meeting at the Executive Mansion in November with Robert Mendenhall, the CEO of the Utah-based University.

In their proposal, House members suggested letting students attending WGU to tap into a $90 million pool of state money used for need-based aid to students attending private colleges in the state.

The Senate took a different approach, and would give the Utah-based college $2 million in state money to set up shop here, with the possibility of drawing down $5 million more if private funds are also raised.

As expected, WGU has both proponents and critics.

It’s hailed by supporters as a fairly low-cost way for older students who may be busy working to finish their degrees, while critics say it offers an inferior education and undermines existing offerings at universities and community colleges.

The $6,000 annual cost for a year at WGU is much lower than what for-profit online colleges like the University of Phoenix and Strayer University can cost.

But it is on par, or close to what UNC system institutions charged this year in tuition and fees, which range from $4,655 a year at Elizabeth City State University to $8,407 at N.C. State University for the 2015-16 school year.

WGU currently has a six-year graduation rate of 38 percent, a rate they hope to increase, which is much lower than the 63.1 percent that graduate from UNC institutions in six years.

Not everyone’s thrilled at the prospect of WGU coming to the state.

John Fennebresque, the chair of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors, says the state’s existing higher education institutions can do more for North Carolina-based students than WGU can.

He attended the November meeting McCrory had with WGU in November.

“We can do all that within the (UNC) system,” Fennebresque said in an interview this week with N.C. Policy Watch. He added, “I saw nothing that they offer that we don’t or can’t do.”