The students' actions eventually caused the board to move the meeting
to a smaller room, where only board members, campus chancellors,
staff and credentialed press were allowed. Though most members of the public were kept out, UNC-system President Tom Ross said later that the board was within the state's open meetings law.
Undeterred, students kept up a
steady stream of loud chants just outside the room, yelling "let me in" and often overwhelming
board members' comments.
Shannon Brien, a UNC junior and a member of the UNC BOG Democracy Coalition, said she and other students had planned for the board to try
to silence them.
"Our expectation was that they'd continue escorting people out and
maybe that they'd try to vote over us — talk over us and ignore us," she
"I don't think we thought that they would move it to another room
because that's a violation of a public meeting," she added, gesturing to
the students chanting behind her. "We're going to challenge them on
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt was given a chance to speak briefly during the meeting — as the students shouted, she said "we know that democracy is messy."
"We actually really appreciate the students and the faculty that are outside," she said. "We actually hear you, we know what you're saying."
Holmes said during a news conference that despite the disruption, he
was glad to see students engaged with the board’s work.
“I think there possibly was a more appropriate way to go about it,”
Holmes said. “But I understand the emotions that they believe
passionately, and who are we to squelch someone's passion?”
The purpose of board meetings has traditionally been to conduct business, not to have public forums, Ross said.
Holmes said it’s a coincidence that the three centers closing — the
poverty center, N.C. Central University's Institute for Civic Engagement
and Social Change and East Carolina University's Center for
Biodiversity — focus on liberal policy issues. Asked why these centers
were tapped for discontinuation, he said the review revealed that the
activities of these centers could continue outside of a center
"There was no targeting. I can assure you of that," he said.
Hannah Gage, former chairwoman of the board, said she knows the board has the power to intervene in campuses' centers, but she's concerned about the degree to which the board stepped in with the review.
"We are crossing a new line when we make these recommendations," she said. "It's a line that I hope we don't cross again."
Ross acknowledged that he didn’t agree with all of the
recommendations, though he said he respected the thoroughness of the process. He emphasized that it's not an attempt to inhibit
"I strongly believe in people's right to speak out," Ross said. “Just
as the students have that right, and voiced it and used it this
morning, I think everyone else has a right — that's part of what makes
this nation a great one."
The board also voted to approve UNC-system tuition hikes for the next
two years — averaging 4 percent systemwide for in-state students — and
revisions to the UNC-system president selection process. Discussion of
tuition was contentious, and nine board members voted against the
proposal. Several of them voiced concerns about burgeoning college costs
as students in the audience snapped appreciatively.
Ross said he supported the tuition hikes because campuses had clearly
expressed the need for additional funds to recruit and retain key
faculty and staff. The increase will generate around $50 million in
"It was a tough balance, as it always is,” he said.
“We’re at a point where if we’re going to remain competitive, if we're
going to remain great, we have to have additional revenue."