After months of dealings behind closed doors, the UNC system may see new transparency in its search for its next president.
The N.C. House of Representatives passed an amendment Monday that would urge the Board of Governors to present at least three finalists for the president’s job.
Under the current system, the board can withhold the name of the new president until his or her appointment is officially announced — this has raised concerns.
“There’s a general feeling of concern in the need for transparency,” said Marty Kotis, a member of the Board of Governors. “I think an open meeting with discussion of the candidate’s qualities, frankly, should have occurred long before now.”
Kotis said increased transparency is important in light of President Tom Ross’ recent departure, the cause of which is still unclear.
“It’s kind of embarrassing that it would take legislative action to require that level of transparency,” he said. “We should be requiring that of ourselves.”
The original amendment stated names would be made public before the board’s final decision, but a vote late Tuesday night stripped the bill of a clause that would make the candidates’ identities open to the public for discussion.
“To not have the ability to weigh in on candidates and to not be able to give proper due diligence would be a disservice,” Kotis said.
“If you’re just given one name, you really can’t do your job.”
Ferrel Guillory, a journalism professor at UNC and director of the Program on Public Life, said he and many at UNC support more transparency, but he acknowledged it could come at a cost.
“The people who say we would lose talent, that the pool would not be as wide or as deep if everything were transparent have a point,” he said.
“People in public life might not offer themselves for the presidency of universities or the chancellorship if their political standing would be weakened.”
Joni Worthington, spokesperson for the UNC system, agreed. The board’s confidentiality was meant to attract the best candidates possible, said Worthington.
But Guillory said the benefits of transparency in the search could outweigh the costs.
Guillory said the bill reflected the nervousness in the legislature by both parties.
“The BOG has been the focus of a lot of controversy externally and friction internally,” he said. “The impulse to want to have this be a transparent process reflects a desire on the part of a lot of people, including legislators, to know more about what the BOG is doing here.”
Guillory said he was also concerned with the legislature’s involvement in the University.
“(The legislature) ought to be careful about intruding in ways that would tarnish the reputation of the University as having academic freedom and the freedom to pick the best possible both political and academic leader for the system,” he said.
“Choosing a president is a really big decision for the future of the state.”