The provision, introduced in the Senate Oct. 4, calls for a study of the BOG's overall structure and governing power.
N.C. leaders last examined the governing structure of its public universities in 1971 when then-Gov. Robert Scott created a committee to study alternative models for structuring higher education. After the study, the state's 16 public campuses were consolidated into a single university, and the BOG was installed as its governing entity.
Could the call for a study 30 years later mean another restructuring of the UNC system? Could a breakup of the system be on the horizon?
Legislators are mum on the subject. And that is precisely the problem.
Over the years, the N.C. General Assembly has hovered over the BOG and UNC system like an overprotective parent, and the call for a study is the latest example. First, legislators elect the BOG members. On one hand, that is good because legislators can push for equal representation of all of the system's campuses on the board.
To some extent that has come true. According to the recently published BOG directory, all but four of the UNC system's campuses have members living in their respective cities.
But on the other hand, 22 of the 32 BOG members have either earned degrees from or served on boards at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University, thus begging the question if the board is overly dominated by the UNC system's flagship universities.
In recent years, leaders from UNC-CH and N.C. State have complained that the BOG and UNC system's structures prevent them from operating efficiently as research institutions.
For example, in a 1994 self-study, N.C. State leaders claimed that state appropriations to UNC-system campuses based on class size deprives the university, known for its graduate seminars and one-on-one faculty-student interactions, of much-needed funds.
The legislature also charges the BOG with setting tuition policies for the entire UNC system. But facing this year's budget shortfall, legislators stepped in and packed an additional tuition increase on top of a BOG-initiated hike proposed last spring.
A study of the BOG is needed. But the study should focus primarily on the power given to the General Assembly at the cost of the BOG and the board of trustees of each campus and its chancellor.
Sure, legislators deserve some oversight of higher education in the state. But chancellors and BOT members are more aware of their campus' individual needs and thus are more informed to make decisions that are in their best interests. The BOG can then determine if the campus' proposal is in line with the overall mission of the UNC system. If there is ever a conflict, the legislature could act as a mediator.
Such a change strengthens the powers of individual campuses and reinstates the BOG's governing oversight.
Legislators also should revise the structure of the study commission. Currently, the Senate proposes that the commission be limited to 10 members chosen by Gov. Mike Easley, House Speaker Jim Black, Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight and BOG Chairman Ben Ruffin. But the small size prevents each of the system's 16 campuses from being represented on the commission. At the very least, each campus must be allowed to present a report on its current status in relationship to the entire system.
The commission also should be given more time to complete its study. The Senate bill expects the yet-to-be-named commission to report its findings to the legislature when it convenes for the 2002 session next summer. That is not enough time to complete a fair and thorough examination of the state's higher education.
A study of the BOG is a good idea, and its recommendations could change the UNC system for the better. But to work, the study must be inclusive of the entire system and not overly mandated by the General Assembly.
Only then can any report be fair.
Columnist April Bethea can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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