UNC Board of Governors hold unplanned meeting Friday, while legislature demands information on chancellor pay

Lawmakers want to know more about the closed-door session held last month by the governing board of the state’s public university system, in which most chancellors received significant raises during a secret portion of the meeting.

“On behalf of the Speaker and the President Pro Tem, pursuant to G.S. 120-19, I am writing to request any and all records in the University’s possession regarding today’s UNC Board of Governors’ meeting,” wrote Andrew Tripp, an attorney in Senate Leader Phil Berger’s office, in an email sent the same day as the University of North Carolina Board of Governors’ Oct. 30 meeting.

Tripp asked for any audio recordings, as well as draft minutes and agendas for both the open and closed portions of the meeting. (Scroll down to read his email.)

The 32-member UNC Board of Governors announced this week it will hold a previously unscheduled meeting in Chapel Hill Friday to discuss the legislative request, as well as to get an update on faculty compensation.

Meanwhile, an agenda for the Nov. 18 joint legislative committee on government operations has the UNC system listed for a report, as well as an update about the recent controversy over the McCrory administration’s decision to award a prison maintenance contract to a campaign contributor over correction officials’ objections.

The chancellor raises, which included pay bumps as high as 20 percent or up to $70,000, came as rank-and-file employees have seen little movement in their own salaries in recent years, other than a $750 bonus that all state employees are slated to receive this year.

It also comes shortly after the UNC Board of Governors, who all received appointments from the Republican-led legislature, announced its hiring of former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings at a base salary of $775,000, much higher than the $600,000 that outgoing UNC president Tom Ross received as a base salary.

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UNC Board of Governors gave chancellors raises of up to $70,000 in closed-door meeting

The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors raised the salaries for 12 of the system’s chancellors during a closed session meeting Friday, giving pay raises of 8 to 19 percent to the top campus administrators.

UNCsystemThe salary amounts were released publicly Monday, with the heads of the state’s two flagship campuses receiving $50,000 and $70,000 raises. (Scroll down to view the entire list of raises.)

Five chancellors, all but one who were hired in 2014 or 2015, received no pay increases. The head of the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, the prestigious public high school run by the UNC system, received a pay increase as well.

System officials would not release the salary information Friday, despite objections from several reporters at the meeting that the changes should have been disclosed publicly at Friday’s meeting.

Mike Tadych, a lawyer who works on public record and open government issues for the N.C. Press Association and media companies, told WRAL Friday that the salary information should have been acted on in open session, and disclosed immediately.

“At the end of the day, their ultimate decision needs to be voted on in open session,” Tadych told WRAL, adding that N.C. public records law does not allow public bodies to withhold salary information.

NCSU Randy Woodson

NCSU Randy Woodson

N.C. State University Chancellor Randy Woodson received a $70,000 pay bump, according to the information released Monday. His base salary of $590,000 is now the highest in the UNC system, and a private foundation connected to the Raleigh university will chip in an additional $200,000 each year for Woodson.

Carol Folt, the chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, received a $50,000 pay increase, and will now make $570,000 a year.

Other substantial pay jumps include UNC-Charlotte Philip Dubois, who is now making $387,500 after a $63,050 raise; East Carolina University’s Steve Ballard, who will make $385,000 in base salary after a $62,400 raise and Western Carolina University Chancellor David Belcher, who will make $335,000 after a $54,500 raise.

The legislatively-appointed UNC Board of Governors indicated the raises approved during a closed-session vote were to align with a policy approved earlier this year to increase the ranges of chancellor and top administrator pay.

But staff and faculty in the UNC system have seen little changes in their paychecks since the start of the national recession, with only nominal raises approved in some years as the legislature has tightened the university system’s budget and mandated more than $500 million in cuts to campuses since 2010.

UNC employees, like all state employees, are slated to receive a $750 bonus this year.

It’s not clear if any on the 32-member board objected to the pay increases. N.C. Policy Watch has asked for more details about the vote taken Friday behind closed doors.



Chancellor Increases – BOG Approved Sheet1-1 by NC Policy Watch

UNC chancellors get pay bump, but public doesn’t get to know (for now) how much

The pay for several chancellors in the University of North Carolina is going up, but system officials aren’t yet saying by how much.

The pay boost was authorized Friday during a two and a half-hour closed session of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors in Chapel Hill.

UNCsystemThe 32-member board did not take a vote on the pay changes in open session, a departure from the procedure required by law for most public bodies in the state.

Instead, it approved the pay changes through a “closed session authorization,” said Joni Worthington, a spokeswoman for the UNC system.

Responding to objections from several media outlets about the information being withheld and decisions being made outside of the public’s gaze, Worthington said the new salaries would be released once the chancellors are informed of their new salaries.

The pay changes comes several months after the board approved new salary ranges for chancellors and top administrators, a move that the board said would help UNC remain competitive with other higher education institutions.

It also comes a week after the board hired former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, offering her a compensation package with a base salary of $775,000 and much higher than the $600,000 her predecessor Tom Ross has made in his final year at UNC.

Meanwhile, rank and file employees of the 17-campus system have had a much different reality when it comes to pay, with little movement in own salaries since the start of the recession. University employees, like all state employees, will receive a $750 bonus this year as part of the budget passed this fall by the state legislature.

G.A. Sywassink, a UNC Board of Governors member who heads its personnel and tenure committee, said that he’d like to see about raises for other university staff “as soon as we can do it, as soon as we can make it happen.”

He said Spellings, when she starts in March, would be consulted about the desire to increase faculty and staff pay.

The pay increases for chancellors authorized in closed session were “fair and honest” and help the system keep valuable leaders in place, Sywassink said.

Generally, local public bodies like county commissions and city councils can only increase pay of employees when they take action in open session, said Frayda Bluestein, a law professor at the UNC School of Government who specializes in open meeting and public record issues.

Any decisions made in closed session are not valid, she said.

Bluestein couldn’t say if Friday’s action by the UNC board ran afoul of open meeting laws, because she was not intimately aware of how the governing board operates, but did say that salaries of public employees are always considered public records.

Worthington, the UNC spokeswoman, said the UNC system’s lawyer Thomas Shanahan felt the decision to make pay changes in closed session, and not open session, and then withhold that information for a period of time did not violate state public record and open meeting laws.

Former UNC Board of Governors chair Fennebresque honored for leadership, after resigning

The University of North Carolina’s governing board honored its former chair Friday, who resigned earlier this week after considerable acrimony and criticism of his leadership during a search for the university system’s new president.

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.

The board unanimously approved a resolution during its monthly meeting acknowledging how John Fennebresque “led the board and the University through numerous controversial issues of vital importance to its future, and did so without compromising his integrity or values.”

Fennebresque, 68, a Charlotte attorney with the McGuireWoods law firm, has served as the UNC board chair since 2014, and had been on the UNC Board of Governors from 1995 to 1999. He returned to the board in 2011, and had just been re-elected by the state Senate to his third term this summer.

He resigned from his post Monday, just three days after the board selected former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings as the next president of the 17-campus system. Spellings will begin her job in March. (Click here to read my article from earlier this week about her.)

Fennebresque did not attend Friday’s board meeting.

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Former U.S. Ed. Sec. Spellings chosen as new UNC president, gets big salary package and tackles questions about background

North Carolina has a new president of its public university system, former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

Spellings, who was hired at a special meeting Friday of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors, will replace Tom Ross, who had led the 17-campus system since 2011 until he was ousted in January for reasons that critics of the board have attributed to politics.

Spellings’ total compensation comes close to $1 million a year, with a $775,000 base salary, $35,000 in moving costs, up to $77,500 in an executive retirement account, an unspecified car allowance, use of the UNC President’s house and a chance to earn a “performance-based compensation” bonus based on metrics to be determined by the Board of Governors, according to information about the five-year contract distributed Friday by the UNC system.

That’s a significant jump from the $600,000 base salary that Ross earned in his last year of service.

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

Spellings’ selection was unanimously backed by the board of governors, but the compensation package had two dissenting votes from board members Marty Kotis, a Greensboro real estate businessman, and Thom Goolsby, a Republican Wilmington attorney who previously served in the state Senate.

The search process for the next leader of the UNC system revealed a fractured UNC Board of Governors, with some members calling for the resignation of Chairman John Fennebresque and a last-minute attempt by the state’s Republican-led legislature to require the presentation of multiple candidates.

Faculty also spoke out against the search process as well, after their requests to meet with candidates were rebuffed. A statement issued Thursday indicated that Spellings will face an uphill battle in earning the trust of professors as a result of the bungled search process.

“We have a president who is in a deficit potion as far as trust,” said Spoma Jovanovic, a UNC-Greensboro professor, adding that Spellings will need to work hard to overcome that.

David Green, an N.C. Central University professor, said faculty want to see if Spellings shows a commitment to nurturing the distinct offerings of each of the 17-campuses, and ensuring the UNC system is affordable and accessible to North Carolina residents of all backgrounds, races and income levels.

“This is why we come to work every single day,” Green said.

Spellings’ background

Spellings comes to the top job at UNC without much experience in education or familiarity with North Carolina, but a three-decade career steeped in the world of education policy and Republican politics. She worked in Texas for then-Gov. George W. Bush, and followed him to Washington where she was first his domestic policy advisor and then his education secretary. She leaves a job as the president of George W. Bush Presidential Center for the UNC job.

Spellings holds a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Houston, and holds no advanced degree.

She touched upon her political and policy experience in a brief press conference after Friday’s announcement, noting that she sees faculty as the experts in academia, and she’ll bring skills in navigating the political environment the university system faces.

“I have skills that are different from theirs. I’m not an academic. I’m not a teacher or a researcher. I’m someone who understands public policy-making. I understand advocacy. I understand how to bring people together around a shared mission, and I have a track record of doing that in my career,” she said.

Spellings also faced some tough questions at a press conference following her election to the presidency.

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