This week members of the Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina continued their series of listening sessions, meeting to hear from the public in Asheville.
At their Tuesday meeting, the second of six planned sessions, members took on questions of diversity on the board and the thorny issue of whether lobbyists should serve on the board.
Lou Bissette, a member of the commission who spent 12 years on the UNC Board of Governors and currently serves on the UNC-Asheville Board of Trustees, said independence is crucial at both the trustee and UNC System governance level. For that reason, he said, he believes there should be more scrutiny over who can serve.
“There are people who don’t like my saying this, but I don’t think we ought to have lobbyists on the board of governors,” Bissette said. “Because although they’re great people, they have an inherent conflict of interests. And right now we do have a number of lobbyists on our board of governors. I think that’s something this commission should look at.”
At issue is a longstanding question: Should lobbyists, whose livelihoods depend on currying favor with members of the North Carolina General Assembly, serve on a board which has long struggled – and often failed – to maintain its independence in fraught political circumstances?
In 2021 lawmakers – with support of some board members themselves – filed a bill that would have barred lobbyists from the board.
“It’s critical that we establish an independent Board of Governors separate and apart from the General Assembly so the university can carry out its mission of world class teaching, research and service,” Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake), one of the bill’s sponsors, told Policy Watch at the time.“I think for the sake of the UNC system and for our citizens, the General Assembly must do everything it can to remove partisan politics from the appointment process,” Chaudhuri said. “I believe one of those steps would be barring lobbyists from serving on the UNC Board of Governors. I remain concerned that the UNC Board of Governors has become a revolving door of lobbyists and retired legislators. I think at the end of the day, those types of appointments will result in undue political interference from the legislature.” Read more