Open Board of Governors seats could affect future of state education

When the N.C. General Assembly reconvenes later this month, legislators will review candidates for two unexpectedly vacated positions that help shape the state’s higher education policies.

Two members of the Board of Governors, Bill Daughtridge and Aldona Wos, were required by state law to resign because they have been appointed to Gov. Pat McCrory’s cabinet.

Daughtridge will serve as Secretary of Administration and Wos will serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The N.C. General Assembly will also appoint 16 new board members later this year, a process it must complete every two years.

Democrats have traditionally dominated the board, though partisan affiliation has typically not been a significant issue.

When Republicans took control of the legislature in 2011 — for the first time in more than 100 years — they were criticized for using board appointments to further a conservative agenda for higher education.

The law requiring Daughtridge and Wos to resign mandates that any board member appointed as a state officer must step down from his or her position on the board.

“I think both of them are great additions to the McCrory team and a loss for the Board of Governors,” said Jenna Ashley Robinson, director of outreach for the right-leaning John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

“I think the first priority for the legislature in terms of education and the UNC system is to replace them,” Robinson said.

N.C. Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, and chairwoman of the House education committee, said she wants the board to have members with diverse backgrounds.

“The board is made up of different experiences because we want diversity to come to that decision,” Johnson said.

But Matt Hickson, a member of UNC’s chapter of the N.C. Student Power Union, said the Republican majorities in both chambers could threaten the nonpartisan nature of the board.

“They have chosen to go an explicitly political route with appointments who are conservative donors and conservative activists,” he said.

In particular, Hickson is worried the board will pass higher tuition rates and a reduction in financial aid.

“The policies they push now will likely align with the state legislature.”

Despite these concerns, UNC-system spokeswoman Joni Worthington said she is not worried about the board becoming more politicized.

“Historically, our experiences have been that members check their political affiliation at the door and are committed to working collaboratively to strengthen the universities and strengthening higher public education in the state.”

Contact the desk editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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