But he said the legislature is only responsible for so much — it’s up to individual institutions to figure out ways to operate more efficiently.
“There’s only so much to go around,” he said. “We cannot go around fixing the university system by taxing the state.”
Political experts also say the board’s current relationship with the legislature is a rocky one — particularly in light of the recent search for the UNC-system president, which was criticized for its lack of transparency by legislators and educators.
Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor and director of the Program on Public Life, said the dynamics of the board and its relationship with the legislature have shifted politically.
“Just as you see that there are rivalries within the Republican party in Raleigh as well as Washington — now you get some of the internal tensions within the Republican party becoming evident in the Board of Governors,” he said.
Some of these tensions materialized with John Fennebresque, chairperson of the board, who stepped down Monday after several board members called for his resignation.
Joe Hackney, former Speaker of the House for the N.C. legislature from 2007 to 2011, said different parties have different purposes in mind for the UNC system.
He said from an outside perspective, cuts to the system are continuous, which he attributes in part to a change in political leadership.
Under Democratic leadership, he said some of the top priorities for the university system were for it to be well-funded and a driver of state economic growth.
“And when the new crowd took over, their priority was reducing government and a big piece of government is the university system, so they want to reduce it however they can,” Hackney said. “They don’t value it in the same way.”
But Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed a $2 billion bond proposal earlier this month, including $980 million for the UNC system to fund infrastructure projects — including a new medical building at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Guillory called the proposal a “pretty impressive investment.” North Carolinians will vote on it during the primaries.
Marty Kotis, a member of the Board of Governors, said the relationship between the two governing bodies does not affect the amount of money given to the system.
“I don’t think they’re picking winners and losers for the budget based on relationships out there or a strained relationship,” he said. “I haven’t heard anyone on the legislature that’s not a big proponent of the UNC system,” he said.
Gerry Cohen, former special counsel to the General Assembly and bill drafting director, said the legislature funds growth and enrollment but has also had to make cuts in the budget since the recession.
“The whole process of a budget is political from a civics sense,” he said. “Clearly if all of the actors are Republicans, you wouldn’t think it’s partisan politics. But who knows?”