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The Daily Tar Heel

Year in Review: A tumultuous year for the Board of Governors finally concludes

Former Board of Governors chair John Fennebresque leads a meeting announcing the new UNC-system president in Chapel Hill on Friday.

Former Board of Governors chair John Fennebresque leads a meeting announcing the new UNC-system president in Chapel Hill on Friday.

This story is part of The Daily Tar Heel's annual Year in Review issue as we look back on 2015. Read the rest of the Year in Review stories here.

Rarely has the UNC-system’s Board of Governors seen a year like this one. Marked with turmoil and change, 2015 has seen the board face criticism from every direction.

Two events highlight the past year for the board: January’s announcement that system president Tom Ross was resigning, and the board’s president selection process, which concluded in October with the selection of Margaret Spellings.

These changes were believed to have been coordinated by the board’s former chairperson, John Fennebresque, who resigned in October. The Charlotte attorney’s time as leader of the body was seen as one with an increasing lack of transparency.

In February, a widespread review process that began the previous summer concluded at a board meeting where members approved the closure of UNC’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. Faced with loud student and faculty protest, the board moved the meeting to a private room where most of the public was denied access.

Months later, during system president-elect Margaret Spellings’ selection process, the board conducted a closed-door meeting with less than half of its members were present.

The board also held an emergency closed-door meeting on Oct. 30, where they voted to raise the salaries of most of the school chancellors in the UNC-system. That decision was met with much skepticism from faculty and staff, who questioned when they would see a similar pay raise.

The interim chairperson of the board, Lou Bissette, told legislators in November that the board should have returned to open session for the vote. 

Amid much public criticism, the N.C. General Assembly decided to step in and requested the presence of the board’s interim chair at a legislative meeting in November to address compliance with North Carolina’s open meeting laws.

Other major actions taken by the board this year include a decision to ‘scale back’ nearly 50 degree programs across the UNC-system, including one at UNC: human biology. The board also voted to make several infrastructural improvements on UNC-CH’s campus.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s faculty have been outspoken in their criticism of the board’s actions this year. In a faculty meeting on the same day of the decision to close the poverty center, professors across UNC-CH’s departments expressed fears that the board was overstepping its authority.

Many of those critics say the board’s campus-level decision-making is unprecedented, as in the past those decisions have often been left to Boards of Trustees and university administration.

Over the summer the board welcomed nine new members, sparking concerns over the body’s lack of diversity: 28 of 32 voting members are Republicans, with no registered Democrats, and more than 90 percent of the members are white.

With Fennebresque gone, some board members and many in the public are hopeful for more open discussion and decision-making in the future.

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