The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday June 10th

Conservative influence, strategic plan to be scrutinized at Board of Governors meeting

When the UNC-system’s Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions meets today, students in attendance will focus as much on the members of the committee as the policies they propose.

The committee, which is composed of UNC-system Board of Governors members, chancellors, business leaders and state legislators, will discuss the system’s strategic plan for the next five years.

The plan will include measures to improve graduation rates and efficiency and prepare students for the global workforce.

But before the committee develops a future vision for the system, student groups say there should be more scrutiny of who is influencing that vision.

After Republicans won majorities in both chambers of the state legislature for the first time in 100 years in 2010, they appointed more Republican supporters to the system’s Board of Governors.

The N.C. Student Power Union, a coalition of student advocacy groups throughout the system, sent a letter to the committee Tuesday raising concerns about the conservative leanings of both board members and business leaders.

In particular, the groups are concerned with the influence of Art Pope, CEO of the retail stores conglomerate Variety Wholesalers Inc. and a prominent conservative donor.

“We feel that some members of the committee bought their way onto the committee,” said Bryan Perlmutter, an N.C. State University student and member of the Student Power Union.

In the 2010 election, Pope and his wife Katherine contributed $32,000 to campaigns.

He has donated $4,000 to the 2012 campaign for N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, who also sits on the committee.

“If someone is a major donor, it is likely they are not going to disagree with them,” said Zaina Alsous, a member of UNC-CH’s chapter of the Student Power Union. Alsous is also a columnist for The Daily Tar Heel.

Alsous said she is also worried about the lack of student and faculty representation on the committee. The only student representative is UNC-system Association of Student Governments President Cameron Carswell.

“Staff, students and faculty makes the University what it is,” she said.

Alsous said the inclusion of corporate influence on the committee could lead to support of privatizing higher education programs — referencing policies supported by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a conservative-leaning group funded by Pope.

But Jay Schalin, director of state policy analysis for the center, said Pope will not have disproportionate input.

“He is just one more member of the board,” Schalin said. He added that Pope takes a relatively hands-off approach to operations at the center named after his father.

Schalin said the strategic plan represents an opportunity to maximize efficiency during a time of scarce resources.

“The goal is not to destroy education in light of the state having less money to appropriate,” he said.

Alsous said students want the committee to hold statewide town halls and extend the deadline for the plan’s completion beyond January.

Board member Dudley Flood said he expects there to be vigorous discussion.

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