State legislators appointed five new members to the UNC Board of Governors last month.
On a 24-member Board that is disproportionately white, male and conservative compared to the students in its system, these new appointments advance its diversity, increasing the number of female, Black and Democratic members.
The BOG governs the UNC System’s 16 universities and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. The members are elected by the N.C. General Assembly to staggered four-year terms. No member can be elected to more than three full four-year terms.
Every two years, the House and Senate usually each elect six candidates to the BOG. This year, the Senate also needed to select an additional person to fill the vacancy left when former BOG member Darrell Allison, who is now chancellor at Fayetteville State University after resigning in September.
The new members will start their terms on July 1, along with eight members who were reappointed for an additional term.
Rep. Kelly Hastings, R-Gaston, led the appointment process in the House and said the appointments of new and returning members reflect a broad selection of talented North Carolinians. Hastings said the board has geographic, gender and racial diversity.
“We have a lot of confidence because all of these members have experience with the university system, and we hope that they can continue to help make our university system and our universities the best in the country, and maybe the world,” Hastings said.
The new BOG members all said they are honored to serve and hope to positively contribute to the UNC System. They said in particular they hope to focus on affordability, access and improving student outcomes.
Who are the new appointees?
Former State Rep. John Fraley, R-Iredell, is the only new member selected by the House to join the BOG.
During his three terms in the House, Fraley served as the chairperson of both the Education — Universities Committee and the Appropriations on Education Committee. Fraley is also on the board of directors for myFutureNC, a statewide nonprofit focused on closing gaps in postsecondary educational attainment.
With this experience in higher education as well as his regular attendance at BOG meetings for the past four years, Fraley said he is excited and prepared to continue his public service and involvement in higher education as a BOG member.
The Senate’s four new appointees are real estate developer Kirk Bradley of Sanford; investment firm partner Lee Roberts of Raleigh; security-services firm president Sonja Nichols of Charlotte; and former State Sen. Joel Ford of Charlotte.
Bradley said in a statement that he views the UNC System as a “crown jewel” that provides a competitive advantage for the state. He said he looks forward to working on the BOG to support and equip system chancellors with “resources they need to encourage an entrepreneurial culture that grows ideation and innovation into jobs for all citizens of North Carolina.”
Roberts, who served as state budget director for former Gov. Pat McCrory for less than two years, said he will bring his expertise in budgets and finance to the board, especially at a critical time when COVID-19 has had a significant impact on university finances.
“It's an interesting time from a budget standpoint, and there are a lot of decisions that have to be made in the coming year and years ahead,” Roberts said.
Nichols said she did not seek the BOG position and was shocked when she received a call from a senator asking if she had any interest in serving. But she said she is excited for the opportunity to serve because women of color are often overlooked.
Nichols will increase the number of women on the board to six — or 25 percent. Female students make up 58.7 percent of total enrollment at UNC System schools, according to data from fall 2020.
Nichols said she is a supporter of education and a proven fundraiser. In 2019, she helped coordinate the Maya Angelou Women Who Lead Luncheon, which raised $2.3 million, for the United Negro College Fund. The proceeds from the luncheon benefited students in North Carolina and the historically Black colleges and universities in the state.
“I want to help make sure all of our schools receive the same kind of love and support that we have made sure that one of our biggest jewels, Chapel Hill, receives,” Nichols said.
Ford was appointed to serve the remaining two years of former BOG member Darrell Allison’s term — until 2023.
Ford represented Mecklenburg County for six years in the state Senate. During his time in office, he helped lower in-state tuition for public universities with NC Promise — a program that offers in-state tuition of $500 a semester at Elizabeth City State University, UNC-Pembroke and Western Carolina University.
Since leaving the General Assembly, Ford has advocated for school choice and serves on the board of directors of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.
Both Ford and Nichols are Black. They increase the number of Black members on the board to four, or 17 percent. Black students make up over one-fifth of enrollment at UNC System schools.
Ford said it is important to have diversity because Black people are not a monolith, and each member brings their unique backgrounds and views.
Additionally, Ford and Nichols will be the only BOG members to have received an undergraduate degree from an HBCU — a helpful perspective to add to a system that has five HBCUs. Ford graduated from NC A&T and Nichols graduated from Florida A&M University.
“I will be one of the loudest voices as it relates to HBCUs and to issues of diversity,” Nichols said.
Ford will be the only registered Democrat on a board composed entirely of Republicans and unaffiliated people with strong conservative ties. In November, The Daily Tar Heel found that 21 BOG members had political contributions tied to Republicans, and only eight to Democrats.
Positions on the board have been filled by Republicans since the GOP took control of the General Assembly in 2010, but Ford said his relationships transcend political affiliation and he has a history of working across the aisle.
“I am looking forward to the discussions and I'm sure there'll be some philosophical differences, but when I think about the UNC System being the educational system for our state, partisan politics is the last thing that I think about,” Ford said.
Though the BOG’s diversity has increased with the recent appointments, some acknowledge there is still room for improvement.
Seventy-five percent of the 24-member BOG are white males. Only 55.4 percent of UNC System students are white.
While there is one Native American member and four Black members, Nichols said she would like to see representation for the Latinx and Asian American communities as well.
Ford said he credits the leadership in the General Assembly for their “willingness to expand the diversity of the board from gender to race to political affiliation.”
While the new BOG members vary in background, gender, race and age, they all similarly recognize the value of the UNC System.
“I think everybody joins the Board of Governors hoping that they can help the UNC system continue to grow and fulfill its destiny as the preeminent system of higher education in the country,” Roberts said.
Who is leaving the BOG?
- Greensboro developer Marty Kotis III and Raleigh attorney Steven Long will depart from the Board after serving two full terms.
- Dwight Stone, chairperson of a custom home-building company, served since November 2019.
- Doyle Parrish, owner of a hotel development company, served two terms and did not seek reappointment due to a recent surgery.
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