As reported in this space on Tuesday, the UNC Board of Governors took action recently to eliminate or consolidate 46 degree programs across the system. The authors of an editorial in this morning’s edition of the Wilmington Star News smell an ideological agenda and are rightfully critical of the move:

“What’s notable, though, is the pattern of the cuts. Music, art and theater programs took big hits, as did programs in African-American studies, women’s studies and Hispanic studies. Programs to train foreign language teachers in French and German were axed at ECU, and math education and Latin were eliminated at UNC-Greensboro.

In some cases, the argument was that many of these programs had few students enrolled, so continuing to offer them wasted money. More generally, though, the Governors appear to be following the lead of Gov. Pat McCrory and his pal Art Pope – slashing back on classes that aren’t directly training students for a career.

McCrory, after all, famously remarked that anyone who wants to study gender issues should do so at a private university (and, incidentally, hope their daddies can pay the tuition).

The ultimate object of this seems to be to retract the UNC system into a network of pre-professional trade schools, supporting values that the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy (funded by Art Pope’s family) identifies as ‘the morality of capitalism’ and ‘limits on government.’

That’s simply wrong. “Liberal education” doesn’t mean studying the collected works of Nancy Pelosi or Rachel Maddow; it refers to teaching students to think independently. That requires exposure to the fine arts, to alien points of view and to foreign cultures.

Cutting funds to train a future generation of high school foreign-language teachers is especially wrongheaded, at a time when we’re told we have to compete in a “global” economy. How can we do that if we don’t understand what the other person is saying?

Click here to read the entire editorial.


Be sure to check out Tazra Mitchell’s excellent essay over on the main Policy Watch site this afternoon: “Governor McCrory’s flat budget proposal ignores research and reality.” As Tazra explains, the state is cutting essential services to provide enrollment growth increases in education and health care. As a practical matter, everything else remains frustratingly and destructively stuck in neutral:

“With his 2015-2017 budget, Governor McCrory chose to ignore the need for reinvestment in public education, health, safety, and the other programs that improve well-being for us all. Total state investments under his 2016 fiscal year budget proposal would be 6.1 percent below pre-recession levels, adjusting for inflation. North Carolina’s lived experience shows us this is the wrong way to go—in past economic recoveries, state investments returned to and exceeded pre-recession levels far more quickly. Our former leaders understood that investing in the infrastructure of opportunity spurs economic growth.

Governor McCrory’s spending plan, in large part, freezes state investments at a time when his priority should be to roll back harmful budget cuts enacted since the downturn. His budget for the 2016 fiscal year increases year-to-year spending by nearly $439.8 million, or two percent, but the costs of enrollment growth in public schools, the UNC system, and the Medicaid/Health Choice programs are estimated to slightly exceed that year-to-year increase. That means every new dollar, on net, is dedicated to funding enrollment growth rather than replacing budget cuts that stifle economic mobility or pursuing new initiatives to position the state competitively.

And despite promises that the 2013 tax cut for the wealthy would deliver a huge boom to the economy, North Carolina has experienced nothing of the sort. Job growth has largely followed national trends in recent years, but we still have not gotten back to the level of employment—when accounting for population growth—that was the norm before the recession. Wages in North Carolina have slipped further behind the national average and are not even keeping up with inflation, which means many people’s paychecks do not go as far as they did before the downturn.

So the promise of an economic boost from tax cuts has failed to pan out, but state leaders are sticking with those cuts rather than reinvesting in the long-term building blocks of opportunity and prosperity like schools and environmental protection.”

Click here to read the entire article.


Tom Ross_1162015If you haven’t done so already, check out Charlotte Observer contributor Alice Carmichael Richey’s essay decrying the UNC Board of Governor’s inexplicable firing of system president, Tom Ross (pictured at left).

As Richey argues persuasively, the Board’s actions simply ought not to be allowed to stand in their present form — i.e. unexplained.

“The board acknowledged its decision had nothing to do with Ross’s ‘performance or ability to continue in the office’ and was made despite the board’s belief that he ‘has been a wonderful president’ with a ‘fantastic work ethic’ and ‘perfect integrity’ who ‘worked well with [the] Board.’”

After quoting the board chair, she goes on:

“All of this begs at least two questions: Why did the board make this decision and, no less important in light of public reaction, will the board reconsider? Read More


If you’re still scratching your head trying to figure out what was behind last week’s decision by the UNC Board of Governor’s to end its relationship with system President Tom Ross, be sure to read today’s Fitzsimon File where Chris works to unravel the mystery. Here’s an excerpt:

A politically appointed board unexpectedly fires a popular and respected president with no notice or no explanation and nobody even owns up to pushing for him to resign.

The head of the board then insists that it wasn’t politics that prompted the president’s dismissal, and says his age wasn’t a factor either, and then proceeds to talk about the incredible job the president is doing.

There is a conspiracy here all right, a carefully orchestrated plan by right-wing political interests to complete their takeover of the state by firing the head of the university system, a public institution that they have been seeking to dismantle for years.

Read Chris’ full column here, and click below to hear Board Chair John Fennebresque try to explain their decision to part ways with President Ross:
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tom-rossThe UNC Board of Governors is expected to end its relationship Friday with Tom Ross, the system president for the last four years.

UPDATE: 12 p.m.: The UNC Board of Governors voted Friday to keep UNC President Tom Ross until January 2016, and begin a national search for his successor.

The new employment agreement will pay Ross a $600,000 salary over the next year, and gives him a tenured position at the Chapel Hill-based School of Government upon his retirement. He will also be paid $300,000 for a year of research leave following his exit from the presidency office.

The decision came after two hours of closed session, and had only one dissenter, Marty Kotis. Kotis said he was objecting because of concerns about the timing and process surrounding Ross’ employment.

“The Board believes President Ross as served with distinction, that his performance has been exemplary, and that he has devoted his full energy, intellect and passion to fulfilling the duties and responsibilities of the office,” according to a joint statement from Ross and the Board of Governors. “The board respects President Ross and greatly appreciates his service to the University and to the State of North Carolina.”

Joint Statement of UNC Board of Governors  and President Tom Ross

Joint Statement of UNC Board of Governors and President Tom Ross


Ross, an attorney and former judge who came to the university in 2011 after leading the private Davidson College, led the university system during a period of massive budget cuts, including $441 million in cuts handed to the schools between 2011 and 2013.

In addition to his higher education work, Ross has also served as a judge, the head of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts and head of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem.

His future with the system had been uncertain as the increasingly conservative members of the board expressed frustrations with the UNC system and Ross’ leadership.

Both WRAL and the News & Observer are also reporting Ross’ departure, citing anonymous sources. He is expected to stay on through January 2016. He is 64 and, though most UNC presidents have left the position at 65, Ross was not interested in leaving, according to the News & Observer’s Jane Stancill.

Terms of the President's Employment Contract as approved by the Board of Governors

Terms of the President’s Employment Contract as approved by the Board of Governors

Ross is expected to speak during Friday’s meeting, where Gov. Pat McCrory is also on hand to address the Board of Governors.

When asked about Ross’ future with the UNC system before the start of Friday’s meeting, Chairman John Fennebresque brushed aside questions from N.C. Policy Watch.

“I don’t want to talk to reporters,” he said.

UPDATE, 10 a.m.: No official statements have been made about Ross’ employment. The UNC Board of Governors, after hearing from Gov. Pat McCrory earlier this morning, went into closed session at 9:45 a.m.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who has announced his intentions to run for governor in 2016, released this statement about Ross’ expected departure. His spokeswoman said Cooper has spoken with Ross about the situation.

I’m deeply concerned that the forcing out of President Ross is another blow to higher education in North Carolina at a time when we need universities to lead in innovation and critical thinking,” Cooper said, according to a written statement. “He has led the University system through difficult times, striving to give students the skills they need for tomorrow’s jobs.”

What do you think about this development? Leave your comments below.