The UNC Board of Governors, diversity and politics

The N.C. House voted unanimously late Wednesday to place Reginald “Reggie” Holley on the UNC Board of Governors.

But that unanimous vote came after a sprawling and sometimes heated debate.

That’s because Holley, a Republican lobbyist who many legislators know well, is in many ways exactly who lawmakers would like to see on the board of governors. A Black first generation college graduate, Holley founded his own business and has worked in state government and politics.

Reginald R. Holley

But he is also a Republican lobbyist — the sixth current or former lobbyist on a board dominated by conservatives with strong connections to the General Assembly’s GOP leadership.

Democrats have for years decried the lack of gender, racial and political diversity of the board, whose members are chosen by the GOP dominated House and Senate.

Even with the addition of Holley, the 24-member board has just three black members (the other two are Darrel Allison and Pearl Burris-Floyd, who have their own histories as lobbyists).

It also has just five women.

None of the members of the board are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

All but five of the board’s members are Republican — and the non-GOP members are unaffiliated.

There are no Democrats.

Critics have for years noted that as the board has become less politically diverse it has become more antagonistic toward groups and people not in step with conservative political orthodoxy. Examples range from academic centers and university faculty to student groups and top university leadership.

Public conflicts with political overtones led former UNC System President Margaret Spellings — who was Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush — to step down from that position last year, followed by UNC Chancellor Carol Folt. A rash of chancellor resignations has led to a situation in which four of the UNC system’s 17 campuses are operating with interim chancellors even as the board searches fo the next president of the system. The political environment is such that lawmakers and Board of Governors members themselves are openly speculating that Tim Moore, the politically divisive Speaker of the N.C. House, will ultimately get the position.

With all of that in mind, Democrats argued Wednesday the process of choosing members of the board of governors should be reformed to prevent political conflicts of interest. Diversity should also be a strong consideration in choosing future members of the board, they said, which should look a lot more like the university system it represents.

During Wednesday’s debate on Holley’s nomination, Rep. Donna McDowell White praised him personally and said she believes he will add to the diversity of the board.

“I think in most scales, when we determine diversity, African-American is still on the list,” White said.

“I love Reggie’s bald head,” White said. “And it is truly African-American.”

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