While the UNC-system Board of Governors has gained a lot of attention this year due to its role in decisions regarding Silent Sam and Chancellor Carol Folt’s resignation, many people don’t know much about how the Board operates.
The current structure of University of North Carolina System governance was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1971, and includes 17 campuses. Since the BOG’s creation, the entirety of its voting members have been elected by the NCGA.
UNC professor Ferrel Guillory, who researches governmental, journalistic and civic leaders of North Carolina, said the electoral process for the BOG is unusual among the higher education governing bodies in other states.
“This system is distinctive – it’s unusual to have all the members of the board elected by the legislature,” Guillory said. “Over time, the Board of Governors system worked and survived challenges, but I think it’s fair to say that there is some rethinking going on because of the way the current membership is handling policy.”
Guillory said at the time of the BOG’s creation, Democrats had a majority in the legislature and so the BOG reflected that. He said the “watershed event” for the BOG followed the 2010 election, when the new Republican majority made a conscious effort to reshape the Board politically.
The NCGA elects board members, which means the BOG often resembles the political makeup of the current legislature. The BOG currently has six women, four African Americans and one Native American among its 28 voting members, according to a 2017 article from the News & Observer.
The 28 voting members are elected for staggered four-year terms. However, there has been a lot of turnover in recent years.
One of the BOG’s responsibilities is to elect a system president. Margaret Spellings was elected president of the UNC system in March 2016, but by 2017, many of the board members that hired Spellings were no longer members, following an election with more turnover than usual. The BOG added eight new members in 2017, and was downsized from 32 members to 28.
Chris Cooper, professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University, is writing a book about how states govern their universities. He said this recent turnover is higher than expected with a governing board.