Being the party in charge of the North Carolina General Assembly comes with a few perks. One example is putting your campaign donors and ideological allies in charge of higher education policy.
Variety Wholesalers CEO Art Pope — the state’s most influential conservative political donor — was appointed to the UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions last week to “provide vital input” for the system’s next five-year strategic plan. The Pope machine’s Center for Higher Education Policy has been a vocal critic of the UNC system.
Chairman of the UNC-system Board of Governors Peter Hans is a former senior policy advisor to many big-name North Carolina Republicans, including U.S. Senator Richard Burr.
Fred Eshelman, another BOG member, is the president of RightChange.com and former director of Real Jobs NC, two overtly conservative outside groups that have dumped millions into recent elections to defeat Democrats.
BOG member David Powers is a tobacco lobbyist who sits on the private enterprise board of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the infamous “corporate bill mill” that has pushed right-wing education policies.
I could go on and on. You get the picture.
As tuition costs rise and state appropriations decline, the concern is Republican appointees will prioritize free-market ideology above our state’s commitment to keeping a UNC education accessible and affordable.
For example, Eshelman and other Republican BOG members were enthusiastic about capping new revenue from tuition increases set aside for need-based financial aid at 25 percent because it’s a “hidden tax.” That 25 percent cap, had it been implemented, would have hurt low-income students at schools like UNC where 38 percent of tuition increases support aid.
Conservatives in North Carolina have long viewed UNC skeptically as the state’s liberal bastion. Now those conservatives are running UNC.
We don’t know much about Friday’s 50-minute private BOG meeting with Chancellor Holden Thorp beyond the fact that it happened; Republican BOG members claimed to be quite pleased with him despite recent scandals. What we do know is that Thorp announced his plans to resign on Monday.
I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in that meeting.
And this all starts in Raleigh. Redistricting should solidify the GOP’s majorities in the state’s House and Senate, and Republican candidate for governor Pat McCrory has led his Democratic opponent in every single available public poll since January.
That could mean a heavily Republican BOG voting on our next chancellor and future Board of Trustees members starting in 2013 — and no gubernatorial veto against more education cuts in the next state budget. There’s a new party in charge, and the past two years were probably just a preview.
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