After intense debate, UNC Board of Governors approves changes to chancellor search process

The UNC System President will be able to insert two hand-picked candidates into chancellor search processes at campuses across the system under a new change approved by the UNC Board of Governors Thursday. One of those candidates would become an automatic finalist, under the change, whether or not local search committees agree with the choice.

Traditionally, a search committee constituted by an individual school’s board of trustees conducts an independent chancellor search and forwards at least two finalists to the UNC system president. The president then chooses a final candidate to submit for final approval by the UNC Board of Governors.

In July, before he had officially taken office,  new UNC System President Peter Hans proposed a change that would allow the president to unilaterally add up to two hand-chosen candidates to any chancellor search process. Those candidates would go through the same interviews as other candidates, but would automatically move forward in a slate of finalists for the position, irrespective of the opinions of search committees or boards of trustees.

In effect, the president would have the power to appoint finalists and choose the final candidate from those finalists.

UNC System President Peter Hans.

The proposed change divided the board, with a number of members saying it would essentially allow the system to disregard local search committees and boards of trustees. After a long debate at the board’s Thursday meeting, the proposal was changed so that only one of the president’s hand-picked candidates would become an automatic finalist, not two. The board also announced that the new system will not apply to chancellor searches already underway at East Carolina University and Fayetteville State University.

Those changes didn’t satisfy critics of the changes.

“The founders of our board of governors wanted to ensure that the great institutions were as free from political influence as possible,” board member Leo Daughtry said during the debate. “These institutions could very easily become a dumping ground for tired politicians, for old and big donors and others. When I was in the General Assembly it was the DMV.  If we pass this provision, our president will have the ability to choose a chancellor unfettered. The board of trustees, who have always had that job, could now very easily be by-passed and the president choose a chancellor.”

Persistent rumors that N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) is pursuing the chancellorship at East Carolina University have colored the debate. Though Hans will now not have the ability to insert candidates into that search, Daughtry said even with Thursday’s changes to the plan, it was like “a pig with lipstick on it.”

State Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake), a member of the N.C. House standing committee on universities, agreed.

“I agree with my former House colleague Leo Daughtry here,” Martin wrote on Twitter, where he followed the debate. “The UNC BoG should not give this power to the system president.”

Giving the president the ability to choose one automatic finalist rather than two didn’t make the plan better, Martin said.

“One is all it takes,” Martin wrote.

Since the change was proposed in July, members of the UNC Board of Governors, trustees and faculty groups across the system have questioned its wisdom — some strongly condemning it. The faculty Senate at UNC-Greensboro and the American Association of University Professors chapters at UNCG, UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University have all released public statements opposing the change.

UNC Board of Governors member Art Pope also opposed the change, expressing a conservative philosophical problem with it.

UNC Board of Governors member Art Pope.

“When we look at the governor — the governor of the state does not nominate and appoint mayors of the state,” Pope said.

“Even if it’s just one person nominated by the president, I think that does chill others even applying for the position,” Pope said.

Some who may apply for chancellor positions may conclude they’re wasting their time in applying, Pope said, if the president of the system has already made his preferred candidate clear by inserting them into an existing search process with the guarantee that they will become one of the finalists.

Overall, Pope said, he has been for expanding the powers of the system president — especially when it comes to the budget. But would not support his sort of expansion, he said.

“I think this is a step too far,” he said.

Hans assured board members that he will work collaboratively with search committees and trustees to choose chancellors and has no incentive to make the process adversarial.

Several other board members — including Marty Kotis, Jim Holmes, David Powers  and board Chairman Randy Ramsey — spoke in favor of the change.

Kotis reiterated his view that the university’s president should, like the CEO in private industry, be able to choose the leadership team that reports directly to him. He also said that in some cases, the best interest of the people of the state may be in conflict with the will of a search committee at the campus level.

“I can’t imagine our current president, or any president, would want to work in conflict with boards of trustees or campus leadership,” Ramsey said.

Hans gave the board his “absolute pledge” to work smoothly and collaboratively with search committees at the campus level.


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