UNC Nobel prize

Image: UNC Chapel Hill

As one of the first acts of his governorship back in 2013, Pat McCrory went on a national right-wing radio show to attack “the educational elite” in our university system who supposedly weren’t doing enough to gets student “butts in jobs.” Since that time, his administration has waged a more or less permanent war against academia by repeatedly allowing faculty salaries to slide and just generally under-investing in public colleges and universities.

Whether a sincerely held belief or just a convenient scrap of red meat to toss to the intellectual-hating far right, McCrory’s stance is predicated on the notion (regularly championed by denizens of the Art Pope empire) that universities should be more like training institutes in which faculty devote the overwhelming majority of their time to preparing students for employment. Meanwhile, “luxuries” like the liberal arts and research for the sake of advancing knowledge are just that — extravagances to be left to the vagaries of the “market” and the “demand” provided by well-off students and parents willing to underwrite their cost via private school tuition.

This morning, North Carolinians received yet another powerful reminder of the absurdity of the Governor’s stance on these issues when Prof. Aziz Sancar of the UNC School of Medicine was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. According to the Associated Press:

“The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said their [Pro. Sancar’s and his fellow recipients’] work on DNA repair had provided ‘fundamental knowledge’ about how cells function and shed light on the mechanisms behind both cancer and aging.”

You got that? Prof. Sancar helped advance an important piece of “fundamental knowledge” that has the potential to greatly benefit all of humankind. From this vantage point, that sounds like a pretty darned good use of tax dollars.

Let’s hope Sancar’s award spurs the Guv and his allies to think a little harder about their simplistic takes on higher education — especially when it comes to the numerous would-be Aziz Sancars who continue to be driven out of North Carolina by the administration’s shortsighted approach to faculty compensation and duties.


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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Note: This post has been updated to reflect information provided by the UNC system. 

A Senate bill capping the terms of members on the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors moved through a House Rules committee Monday, and could potentially shift at least two current members off the board, if passed.

UNCsystemAn individual could serve three, four-year terms (a total of 12 years) under Senate Bill 670, which was headed to the House floor and possible passage during what appears to be the final week of the legislative session.

The current UNC Board of Governors’ policy limits members to three consecutive, four-year terms, while the bill being proposed by Sen. Tom Apodaca would apply to both consecutive and non-consecutive terms.

The full House will vote on the measure tonight.

There are currently three members on the UNC Board of Governors who are in the midst of their third or fourth terms, according to information provided by the UNC system.

John Fennebresque, the chair of UNC Board of Governors and a Charlotte attorney, received a four-year apointment from 1995 to 1999, as well as appointments from 2011 to 2015, according to information provided by a UNC system spokeswoman . He was re-appointed to his third term this spring.

Craig Souza and Frank Grainger are serving their fourth terms on the board. Both men served three, four-year terms from 1997 to 2009. Grainger rejoined the board for his fourth term in 2011, and Souza re-joined in 2013.

Hannah Gage, a former board chair, was a voting member of the UNC Board of Governors from 2001 to 2013. She is now serving in a non-voting, emeritus position.

The state legislature is responsible for appointing all 32 members of North Carolina’s governing board for its public university system. That’s led to significant changes to how the board does business, now that all 32 members currently serving have gotten their appointments from Republican-dominated state legislature after decades of Democratic control.

Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, introduced the bill regarding the term limits and said Monday it would affect three of the board’s current 32 members if and when it became law.

He did not name the three individuals, and it’s unclear if he was referring to Souza, Grainger, Fennebresque or Gage.

State Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, an Apex Republican, voted against the bill, saying lawmakers could just choose not to reappoint those members, if they felt they had been in their positions too long.

“I’m just wondering why” legislation for term limits are needed, Stam said in committee Monday. “You don’t have to re-elect them to a fourth term.”

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NC Budget and Tax Center

The Connect NC Bond Act does not appear to be driven by a single coherent vision of how to use state investments to support economic growth. As can be seen below, the House and Senate versions put out over the last month have varied enormously over the total size of the bond and the type of projects to be funded. Concerns over cutting taxes while going farther into debt aside, the bond act shows that there is no single guiding star by which the legislature is sailing.

BOND PROPOSAL - pie charts2-LAND

To be fair, some of this is just the legislative process in action. When you’re making a multi-billion dollar sausage, there’s going to be lots of back and forth on the ingredients. Still, while the bond bill outlines how important investments are to our economic future, it reveals relatively little consensus on what those investments are or how to make them.

Here are a few of the major changes to the bill compared to what the House presented last month (For a complete breakdown of how the bond package has changed, see the document below): Read More


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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