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The Daily Tar Heel

Majority on Board of Governors shifts to the right

The recent appointment of a majority of Republicans to the UNC-system Board of Governors has added fuel to a fiery debate about the influence of members’ political affiliation on the system’s educational mission.

The state legislature elected 16 new members — many with prominent business backgrounds — to the board last week, a process mandated by state law every two years.

Appointee and Republican Steven Long, a partner at Parker Poe law firm, said his business background enables him to understand the importance of education in preparing students for the workforce.

Long said his primary goal is to the make the UNC system stronger. He said education is a bipartisan effort that will not be affected by the party affiliations of the new board members.

“Frankly, I don’t see any wavering of support for its educational mission,” Long said.

But Matt Hickson, member of UNC Student Power, said the group of appointees lacks cultural diversity.

Business leaders are not necessarily equipped to manage large, diverse universities, Hickson said.

“I think when you’re talking about public higher education, the fundamental goals are different than a business,” he said.

He added that more Republican appointees will upset the traditional partisan balance in the state. Democrats also raised concerns about the number of GOP appointees in 2011.

“The UNC system is the key place where progressive and forward-leaning thought has manifested,” Hickson said.

Now, he said right-leaning individuals were appointed to grant the Republican legislature enough control to implement its education agenda.

Jenna Robinson, director of outreach for the right-leaning Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said she anticipates change with so many newcomers to the board.

But she said no one knows how conservative the new appointees will act.

The focus should not be on the Republican majority, Robinson said.

“The conservative to liberal issue is a lot less important than how these individuals view UNC schools,” she said.

She said education is not inherently a partisan issue.

The more important consideration is whether the new members will act like a governing board or favor their alma maters, she said.

Despite the tradition of non-partisanship on the board, Hickson said he remains unconvinced.

“I don’t think it’s fair to put us in a situation where white, male business owners are determining the fate of a diverse group of people.”

Contact the desk editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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