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BOG: UNC-System President now has the power to choose a finalist for chancellor

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Members of the UNC Board of Governors met in person and via Zoom on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.

The UNC Board of Governors met Thursday, and after 45 minutes of debate, approved a change to the chancellor search process that will allow the UNC-System president to personally designate up to two individuals as candidates for chancellor. 

Under the new policy, at least one of the candidates referred by the UNC-System president must become a finalist for the position — even if campus search committees disagree with the choice.

Prior to Thursday’s change, a chancellor search committee led by the school’s Board of Trustees would conduct an independent search for candidates and send at least two finalists to the UNC-System president. The president would then choose a final candidate, which must be approved by the BOG.

UNC-System President Peter Hans, who first introduced the policy change in July, explained his reasoning for it at Thursday’s meeting.

“My thinking about this was an opportunity for an organization our size to engage in some succession planning,” Hans said. “I think an organization of our size is well-served by cultivating internal talent, with professional development at every level of the organization, and to actively seek external leaders with proven abilities to really prepare a diverse group of leaders for these roles.”

Hans said the president is not obligated to add names in searches where a strong applicant pool already exists, but is able to add up to two. All candidates referred by the president will go through the same interviews as the other candidates, he said. 

The original proposed change at Thursday’s meeting stated that the president could submit up to two candidates with both automatically becoming finalists. But after a “friendly amendment” suggested by board member Doyle Parrish, the language of the policy was changed to state that campus search committees will only be required to send one candidate back as a finalist in addition to their own names.

Chairperson Randy Ramsey clarified that if the president only sent one candidate to the campus search committee, that candidate would automatically move on as a finalist.

The BOG expressed mixed views on the change, with several voicing concerns that it would give the president too much power, allow university boards of trustees to be bypassed and lead to fewer applicants who see the appointment outcome as being predetermined. 

Board member Leo Daughtry was one of the most outspoken critics of the change.

“The founders of our Board of Governors wanted to ensure that the great institutions were as free from political influence as possible,” Daughtry said. “These institutions could very easily become a dumping ground for tired politicians, for old and big donors and others.” 

Before the meeting, the American Association of University Professors at UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro and East Carolina University each released statements opposing the change.

Michael Palm, a professor in the department of communication and president of UNC’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, told The Daily Tar Heel on Wednesday that he viewed the policy change as “a slap in the face to any semblance of shared governance on campus.”

“I don't think there's any way to read this other than a further consolidation of power and a way to further politicize the administration of the UNC ystem,” Palm said.

Daughtry proposed a motion to send the policy change back to the Committee on Personnel and Tenure for further review, but in a divided vote, the motion failed. 

Several board members, including Ramsey, voiced support for the policy change, saying it was not an overreach of power and that it is a legitimate way to expand the applicant pool for chancellor. 

“I cannot imagine that our current president, or any president, will want to work in conflict with boards of trustees or campus leadership,” Ramsey said. “I believe this process will allow our president in consultation with our board to bring people from within to promote from within and identify talent early on that can become chancellors.” 

The policy change passed amended with four board members voting against. 

The change will not affect the two chancellor searches currently underway at East Carolina University and Fayetteville State University but will apply to any future searches.

President’s report

Hans, who started his term as president on Aug. 1, gave his first official report to the BOG. 

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Hans shared that overall enrollment at institutions is up about 1 percent system-wide — a statistic he said he fears may be lost among all the other activities of this fall. 

“In this year of unprecedented disruption across our state across our world, I think that's an extraordinary achievement and a vote of confidence in our universities,” Hans said.

Hans reported that 13 of the UNC System institutions continue to offer in-person learning for undergraduates, while three have transitioned online. The UNC-System will know more about the status of UNC-Charlotte soon, Hans said.

Hans concluded his remarks by asking the BOG to work over the next year to create a unified comprehensive budget reviewed by boards of trustees for each campus in the system in order to practice better financial management.

Calling out the media

Board member Marty Kotis took a few minutes to refute “repeated claims” in the media about what the BOG has and has not done in ordering campuses to reopen this fall, specifically referencing a statement issued by Gillings School of Global Public Health.

He said the assertion in the statement that UNC’s chancellor and provost did not have the full freedom to act, since the BOG told system universities they had to reopen, was “categorically false” and should be corrected.

Kotis emphasized that the BOG has not taken any action to require or mandate the reopening of any campuses, nor overruled any campuses on their decisions.

“I feel it's very unfair for us to be blamed for something we haven't done,” Kotis said.

Closed session

The BOG also met in closed session for approximately 45 minutes. According to the meeting agenda, part of the time was used to consult with their attorney and discuss four cases, including Alston, et. al v. UNC System, et al. — a lawsuit filed by campus employees on Aug. 10 over workplace safety.

The next meeting of the BOG will be held Thursday, Oct. 22.