Higher Ed, News

Ousted elections board chair heading search for next UNC System President

The search for the next UNC system president has a new leader — and for North Carolina politicos, it’s a familiar name.

Kim Strach, former executive director of the NC Board of Elections, will head the search for the next UNC System President

Kim Strach, the former executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections, was announced as director of the UNC System Presidential Search Committee late last week.

Strach was controversially ousted from her position with the board of elections in May in a 3-2 party line vote. The board’s two Republicans argued for keeping Strach, who had served the board of elections for 19 years and worked as its executive director since 2013.

The UNC System Presidential Search Committee, created by the GOP dominated UNC Board of Governors, has hired Strach for $15,000 a month — a bump from the just over $110,000 she made as executive director of the state board of elections.

“Kim is the perfect choice to serve as director, due to her outstanding record of professional service of nearly two decades at the N.C. State Board of Elections, her integrity and her exemplary professional reputation,” said committee co-chairs Randy Ramsey and Wendy Murphy in a joint statement on the hire.

Strach thanked the committee for the opportunity in a prepared statement.

“I am confident that this committee will discover the perfect candidate to lead the UNC System as President,” Strach said.

Dr. Bill Roper was chosen as Interim UNC System President since late last year, after Margaret Spellings resigned her position after prolonged tensions with the UNC board of governors.

The UNC system has since lost several chancellors amid political tensions and personality conflicts with the board, including UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carol Folt and East Carolina University’s Cecil Staton.

Earlier this year Barmak Nassirian, the director of Federal Relations and Policy Analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, told Policy Watch the atmosphere created by the high profile exits and public battles may make it difficult to find high quality candidates for leadership positions across the system.

“There are seemingly irreconcilable differences between the folks charged with governing the operation and the campus communities and the poor souls charged with running the operation,” he said. “That makes it a very dangerous mission for anybody to step in. Who would want to leave a workable arrangement to attempt to play Solomon? How do you bridge that gap? It strains credulity to imagine who would want to step into this except for a partisan for one side.”

The UNC Board of Governors also named co-chairs and members to serve on both the Presidential Search Committee and the Presidential Assessment and Advisory Committee last week. They are:

Presidential Search Committee

  • Wendy Murphy (Co-Chair)
  • Randy Ramsey (Co-Chair)
  • Darrell Allison
  • Kellie Hunt Blue
  • Rob Bryan
  • Phil Byers
  • Carolyn Coward

Presidential Assessment and Advisory Committee

  • Anna Nelson (Co-Chair)
  • Temple Sloan (Co-Chair)
  • Pearl Burris-Floyd
  • Leo Daughtry
  • Tom Fetzer
  • Alex Mitchell
  • Mike Williford
Higher Ed

ECU asserts itself as a ‘welcoming, accepting campus’ after Trump rally, ‘Send her back!’ chants

A presidential visit to a college campus is often a high honor – a chance to showcase the university in the best light on a national stage.

But East Carolina University finds itself in an awkward spot after President Donald Trump’s rally in Greenville last week, in which his supporters chanted ‘Send her back!’ directed at Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who immigrated to the U.S. from Somalia.

In an open letter posted on ECU’s Facebook page, the University reiterates that it did not endorse the event and had no control over the content of the President’s speech.

ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach and seven vice chancellors, who signed onto the letter, go on to write:

Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach

East Carolina University attracts students, faculty and staff from all over the region, state, nation and world. For decades, people with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences have been proud to call themselves Pirates. A diverse campus allows us to pursue excellence in many ways and fields, to communicate effectively with a broad variety of audiences, and – according to our alumni – to be well prepared for the world after graduation.

ECU is indeed a welcoming and accepting campus that provides students, faculty and staff the opportunity and space to share their thoughts and views. We strive to create an environment where individuals feel wanted, welcomed, appreciated and valued, understanding that there will be times we disagree. That challenge, and sometimes conflict, builds resiliency and sharpens the intellect. That’s the beauty of living, learning and working at a great institution of higher education.

We encourage and welcome civil discourse on our campus. The U.S. Constitution allows the intellectual and individual freedom of expression that enables us to live our mission. These freedoms do not protect the right to hear and listen to only what is convenient and agreeable but do protect the right to be able to respond and express one’s own views. We will facilitate such conversations on the campus in the fall.

Read the full letter from East Carolina University leaders here.

President Trump has since said he ‘felt a little bit badly about it’ and that he began ‘speaking quickly’ to try to quiet the crowd:

 

Commentary, Education, Higher Ed, Legislature

Editorial: Despite controversy, UNC system has high marks among alumni

UNC Board of Governors Chair Harry Smith

Despite a reactionary Board of Governors that’s struggled mightily in its erratic handling of Silent Sam, picked bizarre fights with its administrators, frightened its own leaders out the door, and, most recently, traipsed heedlessly over open meetings laws, a recent Gallup survey found UNC alumni overwhelmingly believe their education in the 16-campus system has been a boon.

The Winston-Salem Journal‘s editorial board applauded the poll’s results this weekend, but warned that the omnipresent controversy swirling about the system’s controlling board may soon be a hindrance.

The paper’s right. UNC leaders need a swift reappraisal of their priorities, coincidentally the priorities of an extraordinarily right-wing state legislature. North Carolina is, all things considered, a purple state, but its brain-trust on the BOG and in the legislature governs deep in the red.

Read on for the paper’s editorial:

Alumni of the University of North Carolina system are in a better position than most people to judge how good a job the system’s 16 schools are doing.

Across the state, there are always plenty of people ready to criticize this or that in the system and fret over how much it all costs. But if you want the insight of those who in a position to know, ask people who studied at one of the schools and who have drawn on that experience as they make their way through adult life.

That’s why the positive results of a recent Gallup survey of 77,695 UNC system alumni are worthy of attention.

An impressive 64% of those who responded to the survey said they strongly agreed that their undergraduate education was worth its cost. By way of comparison, that’s 11% better than among similar alumni groups from public institutions across the country, and 14% better than among graduates of all colleges.

Responses of UNC system alumni also showed why they feel so strongly that their education was worthwhile: They’ve put the education to good use. They have higher than average rates of advanced degrees after college, and their average personal and household income figures are considerably higher than those of college graduates across the nation.

So, controversies and rising costs notwithstanding, that’s pretty strong evidence that the UNC system is doing a good job and making a difference in the lives of the people who study there.

There is one cloud worth noting in this otherwise rosy report. The respondents to the survey were older and whiter than the total population of alumni, about 77% white and with an average age of 48. It would be useful to hear from more minority alums, and from younger graduates.

Gallup officials said that the skewed results were typical: those are the groups that tend to be more responsive to surveys, and it happens everywhere, so national comparisons are still valid.

In practical terms, what do these positive results mean? They should mean that taxpayers, legislators and other leaders will see how important it is to make a UNC system education accessible to as many people as possible. These results are strong arguments for working to keep tuition affordable and to offer financial aid for deserving students who might not go to college otherwise.

The positive results are also reason to continue to invest in the people and facilities that make a UNC education so worthwhile.

And this evidence that the UNC system has been doing a lot right, for a long time, makes a strong case that legislators and the UNC Board of Governors should work to attract good administrators and then let them do their jobs.

The positive survey results are definitely not a reason to be complacent and think that the university system will continue to be successful no matter what. Attempts by the board and legislators to micromanage the universities, tinker with the curriculum and demand that schools be run as businesses will take their toll on outcomes and attitudes. So will turmoil of the sort we’ve seen with three top system administrators leaving in the first three months of this year.

The Gallup survey is strong evidence that, over the last several decades, North Carolina’s university system has served its people well.

Let’s do all we can to build on that strong foundation.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, Education, Higher Ed, Legislature, News

The week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Proposed legislation would dramatically weaken state hog farm oversight

A sentence here, a paragraph there. A strike-through, a repeal, a new section.

Individually, the Farm Act and the House and Senate budgets chip away at the incremental yet significant progress the state has made toward regulating industrialized livestock operations.

But taken in total, a half-dozen provisions create a safe house where these operations, particularly swine farms, can clandestinely conduct their business.

“It’s a coordinated and multi-pronged attack,” on laws protecting the environment and public health, said Will Hendrick, attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance. [Read more…]

Bonus read: The Farm Act, state budget are “erecting a fortress for the hog industry”

2. New app will allow North Carolina students to share anonymous tips about school threats

Middle-and high-school students across North Carolina will have an opportunity to download a new app next school year that allows them to anonymously report threats to school safety.

The “Say Something” reporting system will be offered to tens of thousands of students via a partnership between the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit based in Newtown, Connecticut that’s led by people who lost loved ones in the tragic 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting that left 28 people dead.

“Students play a critical role in helping to keep schools safe,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said during a press conference Thursday. “They may see and hear concerns that adults need to know about but may be reluctant to report it.” [Read more…]

3. Teachers would get 3.5 percent pay raise under proposed N.C. Senate budget

Teachers would get an average 3.5 percent pay raise over the next two years under a biennium spending plan released Tuesday by state Republican leaders.

The plan calls for spending $23.9 billion during the 2019-20 fiscal year, and it increases spending on public education by $1.3 billion over the next two years.

Senate leaders told reporters the pay increase would raise the average teacher salary to $54,500 per year over the biennium.[Read more…]

4. Senate budget writers to their “Trump country” constituents: “Drop dead”

In case you missed it, there was new confirmation this week that the people being disproportionately harmed by the refusal of North Carolina Republican senators to include Medicaid expansion in the budget bill they plan to adopt today are — wait for it — their own constituents.

It’s been common knowledge for a long time that lower-income rural communities are among the areas that suffer most from having high rates of uninsured residents, but a recent news story from our neighboring state of Virginia really brings this fact home.

This is from a Tuesday story in the Virginia Mercury entitled “Trump Country sees majority of new enrollees under Va.’s Medicaid expansion”:[Read more…]

Bonus video: Senate ignores Medicaid expansion in budget; Berger says it ‘disincentivizes folks to go to work’ (video)

5. Five basic truths to remember this week about the state budget

It’s one of the great and maddening ironies of the state lawmaking process in North Carolina that the single most important piece of legislation each year is perhaps the most poorly reported and one of the least well-understood.

Every year, as the fiscal year winds down toward its June 30 conclusion, state lawmakers birth a new state budget bill that runs to hundreds of pages and includes all sorts of fundamental decisions about state funding priorities and tax policy, not to mention scores of so-called “special provisions” (i.e. law changes unrelated to the budget that may or may not have been debated previously as the subject of another bill).[Read more…]

6. Hofeller files: GOP mapmaker helped develop Trump’s citizenship Census question

The master mapmaker behind North Carolina’s most contentious and allegedly gerrymandered voting districts apparently also played a role in developing the citizenship question proposed for the 2020 Census by the Trump administration.

Thomas Hofeller’s daughter, Stephanie Hofeller Lizon recently turned over several of his hard drives and digital files to voting rights group Common Cause as part of discovery in their North Carolina state partisan gerrymandering case Common Cause v. Lewis. The news released Thursday about Hofeller’s involvement in the 2020 Census question is the first bit of data released publicly from the “Hofeller files.” [Read more…]

Bonus Read: ACLU notifies US Supreme Court of new evidence in citizenship question case

7. Not so open: Critics say UNC Board of Governors excludes the public from its “public” meetings

Hoping to hear some discussion of the future of the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument, Lindsay Ayling and a few other UNC-Chapel Hill students attempted to attend last week’s meeting of the UNC Board of Governors.

Attempted, as it turns out, was the operative word.

Before the meeting began, while most of the seats in the board room were still empty, Ayling and two other students were told there was no room for them. All the chairs in the room – even the ones that appeared to be empty – were reserved in advance, they were told by campus police.[Read more…]


8. State budget, new scientific tests shine a light on NC’s growing drinking water pollution problem

PFAS contamination found in both Jones and Orange counties

Maysville, which sits on the rim of the Croatan National Forest in Jones County, is home to 1,000 people — about half of whom rely on the town’s sole drinking water well.

And that well, according to a brief sentence in the both the House and Senate versions of the state budget, is contaminated.

But the budget doesn’t say contaminated with what, only that Maysville needs $500,000 to construct a new public supply. [Read more…]

9. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Education, Higher Ed, NC Budget and Tax Center

Reaching our state’s educational attainment goal

At this time of year, graduation stories are ever-present, yet their broader meaning to the strength of our economy is less discussed, as are the real barriers to completion that many young people face.

The research is clear that states with large numbers of bachelor’s degree holders have higher median wage levels than other states, according to the Economic Policy Institute. An advanced education also helps make workers more upwardly mobile in North Carolina. The Working Poor Families Project reports that the median earned income for someone with a bachelor’s degree is $18,000 higher than for someone with only a high school diploma.

Recognizing these real economic and community benefits, state leaders through the myFutureNC commission have set a post-secondary attainment goal that by 2030, two-thirds of North Carolinians aged 25 to 44  will hold a post-secondary degree, with a commitment to ensure that workers are acquiring skills and credentials that align with the goals of the state.

One overlooked source of people who can help North Carolina reach its goal are the Dreamers who have been educated here in North Carolina and are blocked from a pathway to post-secondary attainment due to their arrival to this country without documentation, as well as the lack of a tuition equity policy in our state.  Dreamers seeking to attend college in North Carolina are forced to pay out-of-state tuition – often 300 percent higher than the in-state tuition their peers pay – despite having spent their childhoods enrolled in North Carolina schools. In recognition of the inequity this creates, 21 states across the country have set up policies that recognize the investment that young people have in their educational futures and that communities have made in their education to date.

Estimates based on new data from the Migration Policy Institute suggest that, in North Carolina, an expanded tuition equity policy could benefit at least 1,470 graduates each year.

In a brief we released earlier today, Lissette Guerrero looks at the already significant economic contributions of all foreign-born workers and notes the critical role that post-secondary attainment and access to skills training for adult workers could provide in further boosting the economic and community contributions of these workers.

Indeed, as we have written about in the past on the topic of tuition equity, tuition equity can improve educational opportunities for young people in North Carolina and in turn boost employment outcomes and the productivity and growth of industries and the broader economy.

Tuition equity led to a 31 percent increase in college enrollment for undocumented students and a 33 percent increase in the proportion of Mexican young adults with a college degree in the states that adopted the policy. In addition, the average high school dropout rate decreased by 7 percentage points—from 42 percent to 35 percent—in states with tuition equity.

As yesterday’s Undocugraduation event demonstrated, the potential of young Dreamers is vast and important and to continue to block these youth from accessing post-secondary education would  put that potential to waste.