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NC Senate passes bill shrinking UNC-system Board of Governors

The North Carolina Senate passed House Bill 39 Thursday, which would shrink the membership of the UNC-system Board of Governors from 32 to 24 if signed into law. 

The state House of Representatives passed the draft of the bill last Wednesday — with only four votes against it. 

The N.C. Senate will read the bill once more before it goes to Gov. Roy Cooper to be signed. 

The bill was sponsored by Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett. Greg Gebhardt, Lewis' policy advisor, said the downsizing of the BOG is structural — and many people, including UNC-system president Margaret Spellings, voiced concerns of its size affecting its efficiency.

“We had heard from some members of the board that it became challenging at times to get the work done,” Gebhardt said.

Rep. John Autry, D-Mecklenburg, was one of the four representatives who voted against the bill. He said he was concerned that some UNC-system schools would not get enough representation on a smaller version of the Board of Governors. 

“My concern is North Carolina Central University, North Carolina A&T, Fayetteville State, (UNC-)Pembroke, those schools, there is no assurance that they will be represented on the future board,” he said.

Autry said an amendment proposed by Rep. Henry Michaux Jr., D-Durham, would have required that the board’s representation reflect all of the Universities within the systems.

“That amendment failed, and so I voted against the bill,” he said.

Spellings was not the first person to bring the BOG size concern to the attention of the legislature, Autry said. But the bill was drafted because of her request.

He said the size of the board, while good for structure, will affect demographic representation of all people in the system.

“There’s going to be fewer seats on the board, meaning that many fewer opportunities for people of color to be on the board,” he said.

The GOP's supermajority was one reason why Michaux's amendment didn't pass, Autry said. 

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, said the bill focuses on the structure of the board itself.  

“I think that the problem of diversity and representation is not the size of the board, but the willingness of the board’s electors to make sure that the board is diverse,” he said. 

Members of the Board of Governors are elected by state legislators every two years, and each member serves a 4-year term. 

“The Republicans in the legislature have not made diversity one of their primary criteria for the members that they’ve elected to the board,” Meyer said.

Gebhardt said House Bill 1144, passed in 2001, already addresses issues concerning diversity on the board.

House Bill 1144 said BOG members should be elected based upon economic, geographic, political, racial, gender and ethnic diversity in addition to their knowledge and understanding of the state's educational needs. 

Gebhardt said anyone is welcome to become a member of the BOG, and that with a smaller number of seats, there will be an emphasis placed on those who really want to be involved.

“The argument is less people are participating now if you reduce the number of members," Gerhardt said. "But perhaps there’s more participation because the 24 that are left will have more of a voice."

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