Black students make up over one-fifth of total enrollment at UNC-System schools, which include five historically Black institutions.
Within the Board of Governors, the UNC System's 24 voting-member governing body, there were only three Black members — which equals just 12.5 percent.
But last month, that number decreased to two when BOG member Darrell Allison unexpectedly resigned. If a Black individual is not named as a replacement by the North Carolina General Assembly, the community would be represented descriptively by just eight percent of the Board.
David Green, a professor of law at North Carolina Central University, said Allison’s resignation further exacerbates a problem that already existed.
“I am seriously concerned with the lack of diversity of the Board of Governors,” Green said. “That is something that is noticeable. We have 17 campuses, five of which are HBCUs. It is important to have a Board that is more diverse than what this Board is.”
Russell Robinson, an assistant professor in the department of mass communication at North Carolina Central University, serves as the parliamentarian for the UNC Faculty Assembly.
He said Allison’s resignation was surprising.
“His service is unparalleled,” Robinson said. “He has been transformative. The Board has got a lot of searching to find someone who can fill his shoes.”
In his resignation letter addressed to N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, as first obtained by NC Policy Watch, Allison cited personal reasons for his resignation.
Green and Robinson both said they had no reason to believe his resignation was linked to anything but that.
Allison did not respond to interview requests from The Daily Tar Heel at the time of publication.
BOG Chairperson Randy Ramsey said in a statement that he is grateful for Allison's work.
“I would like to thank Darrell Allison for his valued and thoughtful service on this Board, particularly as Chair of the Racial Equity Task Force and the Committee on Historically Minority-Serving Institutions,” Ramsey said. “Darrell is a passionate advocate for public higher education and the entire UNC System and he will be missed.”
Berger’s office is expected to nominate a replacement, a spokesperson for Speaker of the House Tim Moore said.
Robinson said he hoped a replacement would focus on building relationships and working collaboratively within the System for the common goal of student success. He said because of the business-driven environment, they would have to have a strong business acumen, but he would like to see someone with a relationship to the academy as a whole.
“It would be beautiful if you had a Board of Governors member who actually came from higher education themselves, preferably a faculty member, because they have a certain level of insight that our board members don't have right now — and that’s expected,” Robinson said.
He said an individual who knew the academic landscape could bring another layer of expertise, insight and credibility.
Allison was notably the chairperson of the BOG’s Racial Equity Task Force, which was established in June in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
Lloyd Kramer was chairperson of UNC’s faculty from May 2019 to June 2020. He said that while the establishment of the task force was a step in the right direction, there were still concerns during his tenure as chairperson about how the BOG will address issues of racism.
“From the beginning, there was some concern amongst chairs in the UNC state System about whether the BOG would be willing to honestly confront the legacy of racism in the education system of North Carolina and take constructive action that would be forward looking in the System addressing the legacy of racism,” Kramer said.
He said politicalization of the BOG could also affect decision-making.
“The messages the Republican Party has taken, such as the denunciation of critical race theory, The 1619 Project, could make the BOG leery about any kind of assessment,” Kramer said.
Green, who is also a member of the task force, said he does not think Allison’s resignation will impact the end products of the task force.
“He was an effective leader of the task force — this was an issue he was committed to and compassionate about — but we’re not going to lose that,” he said.
BOG member Reginald Holley has since taken over as chairperson of the task force.
Throughout the month of October, the group is set to host seven virtual town hall listening sessions to discuss race and equity with students, faculty and staff. On Dec. 16, the task force is set to present a report to the BOG chairperson and UNC-System president that includes recommendations and action steps in priority order.
Green said the most important thing for him is to look at issues and concerns brought up by the stakeholders and have tangible results. He said some of the concerns include making sure the BOG and campus leadership are more diverse.
“I want folks to be engaged in the process and feel that their voices are being heard,” Green said. “This is not just a reaction to horrific circumstances, but this is putting something into place that down the line demonstrates a commitment to racial equity. The UNC System will look different a year from now because of this effort.”
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