Clearly, the Board of Governors’ selection process for UNC-system president is not working the way it should. It has been characterized by infighting, calls for board chairperson John Fennebresque’s resignation and acrimony between the board and the North Carolina legislature.
The board’s decision to designate its meeting with UNC-system presidential candidate and former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings an “emergency” is revealing in its lack of transparency and how it has rushed what should be a carefully considered public debate. This process has clearly been political, starting from the moment current UNC-system president Tom Ross was ousted.
Due to this highly dysfunctional process, Gov. Pat McCrory should sign the legislation on his desk that would bring some (but not all) of the needed reforms required by this situation, and he should do so before Oct. 30.
The UNC-system search process needs to be democratized. These problems stem beyond flawed leadership decisions and go back to a flawed system of university governance.
The board is clearly having internal arguments, but the questionable decisions it is making suggest the board’s processes need to be more out in the open. This would improve accountability of the board to the students, faculty, college administrators and ordinary taxpayers of the state.
This does not mean the legislature should have final approval over the UNC-system president candidates. Board members should be allowed to do the jobs they were appointed to, but they should have to do so without trying to hide their arguments and positions, and the public should not have to wait until The (Raleigh) News & Observer reporter Jane Stancill reveals a fresh new batch of board emails to understand the debates happening on the board.
The board should, as the legislation proscribes, consider at least three candidates, and the idea for term limits on the board is also sensible.
But despite the board’s public statement that it would abide by the legislation, concerns that the board’s meeting with Spellings indicate they are not taking the other unannounced candidates as seriously should be addressed.
To dispel future concerns in the UNC-system president selection processes, when the legislature returns from break, it should pass legislation requiring the board to meet with candidates it considers in open session. It should further require each candidate the board considers to meet with UNC’s faculty assembly.
If a candidate is not willing to be subjected to public scrutiny before taking the job of UNC-system president, that candidate should not be UNC-system president. This editorial board doesn’t buy the argument that deliberations must be secret to attract quality candidates.
It seems likely that quality candidates would be more attracted to lead the system if the board hadn’t forced out Tom Ross, who was highly qualified and has performed the job admirably.
While it is too late for any more legislation during this selection process, the board and candidates for the job should abide by these standards.
Democracy and policy-making are messy processes, but they must be done openly to truly reflect democratic values. Otherwise, what the hell are we doing?