Lots has been happening in regards to the search for the next president of the University of North Carolina system, with bickering and acrimony on full display.

To sum it up simply, it’s a bit of a mess.

A growing number of UNC Board of Governors members are publicly expressing their discontent with chair John Fennebresque, a Charlotte attorney, and calling for him to step down from the leadership role.

Former federal Education Sec. Margaret Spellings at Friday's UNC Board of Governors meeting.

Former federal Education Sec. Margaret Spellings at Friday’s UNC Board of Governors meeting.

Then, House and Senate Republican lawmakers, who hand-picked all 32 members of the governing board, are now complaining the board is thwarting their desires by ignoring a bill (which hasn’t been signed and isn’t yet law) requiring the top three candidates for UNC job to go before the full board instead of just a single candidate.

And Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is chiming in on the growing public spectacle as well, saying he doesn’t like the new bill’s reach into the UNC presidential search and won’t decide if he’ll sign it until Oct. 30, the same day it would become law with or without his signature.

Oct. 30 just happens to the next scheduled meeting for the UNC Board of Governors, where they presumably could take a vote to choose the next president.

Meanwhile, the name of the top candidate has also been leaked, former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, despite great emphasis that the search would remain confidential up until the end.

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The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors will meet Friday for an emergency meeting to discuss the search for a new president of the 17-campus campus.

UNCsystemThe meeting, scheduled for 1 p.m. on the SAS campus in Cary, is technically open to the public, but the brief agenda indicates a briefing by a presidential search committee and much of the discussion will happen behind closed doors.

It could mean the full board is ready to select their new president, or a chance to discuss the final candidate or candidates.

The 11-member presidential search committee has met nine times in the last month, all in closed session and presumably to either interview final candidates or discuss candidates.

The UNC Board of Governors is pressed to find a replacement for its current president Tom Ross after the board moved to get rid of Ross last January for reasons that have not been fully explained, other than a general desire for a new direction. Ross, a former Davidson College president and Superior Court judge, has been at the helm of the state’s public university system since 2011, when he was selected by a governing board then dominated by appointees from a legislature controlled by Democrats. Since Ross’ hire, the legislature has switched to Republican control, and all 32 members currently owe the appointments to that Republican majority.

Friday’s emergency meeting is a significant move – whether or not a final choice will be announced coming out of Friday’s meeting, it’s the first time the full board has met to discuss the search for a new UNC president.

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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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