The UNC-system Board of Governors selected Lou Bissette as chairperson of the board in December, replacing John Fennebresque, who resigned in October. Daily Tar Heel Assistant State and National Editor Corey Risinger talked with Bissette about future goals and ways to reform the board in the new year, following frustrations with closed meetings and a lack of transparency in 2015.
The Daily Tar Heel: How could the board improve this year?
Lou Bissette: We’ve had a pretty tumultuous year; I’m sure you’re aware of that. I think one reason is because we had such a tremendous turnover of board members. I’ve been on the board for about four and a half years now, and I’m one of the longest serving board members — so we’ve had a lot of members. I’m not sure that we knew the type of education process for new board members that I would have liked to have seen and that I hope we can accomplish in the future ... It’s a complex system and I think more education for our incoming board members is very important and I think we’re going to be doing more of that, at least while I’m chairman.
DTH: What would you consider a priority in the new year?
LB: I would say successful transition to (Spellings’) presidency in the next six months is going to be extremely important, and all the board members are going to be working to assist her where we can ... You’ll figure out pretty quickly that she knows as much about higher education policy in the United States as anybody ... The thing that she needs some help with — and anybody would — and that is getting to know the state of North Carolina and its people.
DTH: How will the board address concerns about transparency?
LB: I know President Spellings is interested in streaming all of the board meetings so that people, wherever they are in the state, can watch the board meeting take place ... We’re going to be instituting that just as quickly as we can from a technical point of view. And the board is very interested in being more transparent. We had a lot of discussions about closed meetings. And although there are certainly some things that the statutes allow boards like ours to discuss in closed session, we’ve come to the conclusion that where possible, we’re going to air towards more transparency and more openness in our discussions this year.
DTH: What will the N.C. Connect Bond Issue do?
LB: It means almost a billion dollars in new capital projects for the university system. It is a very, very, very important priority for us and all of our board members are going to be out in their respective communities working and trying to educate the public on the need for these capital improvements.
DTH: Explain discussions about the possibility of a western N.C. School of Science and Math campus in Morganton.
LB: Well, let me say this. I think our school of Math and Science is a real jewel for the state and it’s been incredibly successful ... I think a lot of people in the west think that it will actually contribute to economic development in the western part of the state particularly in some of those rural areas that don’t have a lot of economic development. On the other hand, there are those that want to be sure that this does not dilute the success, the incredible success of the main campus in Durham. So there has been a little bit of controversy over that.
DTH: What are expectations for 2016?
LB: I think we’ve got a good board and everybody is optimistic about the new year and optimistic about our working together and supporting President Spellings and the university. Another goal that I have is to get the Board of Governors out of the newspapers. We’re not the part of the university that needs to be in the news. It’s the new president and it’s all of the great things that our campuses are doing throughout the state. Those things need to be in the news and not the Board of Governors.