The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Monday, June 17, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story did not make it clear enough that board member Henry Hinton's comments were not regarding Chairperson John Fennebresque's future. His comments were about a discussion regarding the process of selecting a chairperson of the board.

Rumors about the UNC-system's Board of Governors since UNC-system President Tom Ross was forced to resign in January have not been kind.

Now, amid a controversial closed-door search process for Ross' successor, the rumors have been directed at one board member — Chairperson John Fennebresque, the man who led the charge against Ross.

Speculation has arisen concerning Fennebresque's ability to lead the board, and it's rumored he might be replaced.

Fennebresque declined to comment about the rumors of his possible displacement on Friday, other than to say, "I appreciate the honor of the chair."

Board members are also playing down the situation; it was rumored that a more uniform procedure was proposed for appointing a chairperson in response to the board's dissatisfaction with Fennebresque's leadership style.

Board member Henry Hinton said in an email that the rumors about the process of selecting a chairperson of the board have been overblown.

"We simply brought up the fact that with the election for new officers coming up after the first of the year some board members would like to have a discussion regarding the process," Hinton said.

"One idea floated by some is to have a nominating committee. That's as far as it went."

Ferrell Guillory, a UNC professor in the School of Media and Journalism, said while he's not sure if the board is angry with Fennebresque, it is a relatively new crop of members trying to put their stamp on the 17-university campus system.

That extends beyond filling the role of president to all influential offices in the general administration, he said.

And Guillory said politics undoubtedly play a role.

"Fennebresque may be something of a kin to (Rep. House Speaker John) Boehner — a guy trying to lead a board that’s not all on the same page even though they may seem to be united as Republicans," he said.

But he said politics has always factored in to the BOG, and what's more important is how the politics play out — be that for the good of the university system or petty politics blind to the larger issues.

According to The (Raleigh) News & Observer, Board member Jim Holmes resigned his post as chairperson of public affairs this week after reportedly being "unfairly accused of meddling" in the search process for the next UNC-system president.

While Holmes' email did not point the finger at Fennebresque specifically, they did highlight the unrest among many board members with the president search and the board in general.

Guillory said Fennebresque has spoken readily about his commitment to public higher education, but the Board needs to reaffirm that.

"We need the voice of the Board of Governors to help frame the issues about the future of public higher education and its importance to the state," he said.

He said said Fennebresque and the Board's handling of Ross's dismissal didn't instill confidence about their ability to govern from the public.

Fennebresque has had to recoup since then, Guillory said.

"(Ross's) dismissal shook people's’ confidence in the Board," he said.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Dwight Stone, chairperson of UNC-Chapel Hill's Board of Trustees, said unrest in a university system would be unsettling.

But, he said, rumors are just that — rumors.

The BOT has worked to improve its relationship with the BOG over the last few years, Stone said. And while they don't interact directly with Fennebresque often, he said the Charlotte-based lawyer has done a good job promoting UNC-CH, his alma mater, to the state.

"He has a responsibility to do it now for all 17 campuses," he said.

state@dailytarheel.com