In the past decade, there have been visible and omnipresent changes to the UNC Board of Trustees.
On July 14, David Boliek and John Preyer were elected chairperson and vice chairperson, respectively, of the Board. The votes were unanimous, and there were no other nominees, according to UNC Media Relations.
Boliek and Preyer were two of the four trustees who voted against Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones receiving tenure on June 30. After failing to review her tenure dossier, resulting in national attention, the Board granted Hannah-Jones tenure, which she ultimately declined.
Six trustees were added to the Board in July. They include:
- Rob Bryan, a former member of the N.C. House of Representatives, Senate and Board of Governors
- Perrin Jones, a former member of the N.C. House of Representatives
- Marty Kotis, a real estate developer in Greensboro and BOG member
- Vinay Patel, head of external affairs at SREE hotels
- Malcolm Turner, an executive at DraftKings
- Ramsey White, a businesswoman and former assistant director of development at the Morehead-Cain Foundation.
The Board of Trustees has jurisdiction at UNC-Chapel Hill. Thirteen members advise the chancellor and Board of Governors on University issues. That differs from the Board of Governors, whose 24 members are elected in full by the N.C. General Assembly and holds jurisdiction for all 17 UNC-System schools.
None of the trustees responded to a request for comment.
The UNC administration, on the other hand, is led by the chancellor, who carries out the policies of the BOT and BOG and can make personnel and budget recommendations to the UNC-System president. The provost also guides academic planning and leads the dean of each school.
Changes over the decade
In 2010, state elections resulted in Republican control of both the Senate and House of Representatives of the North Carolina General Assembly for the first time since 1896.
When Gov. Roy Cooper was elected after a close race in the 2016 election, the Republican-controlled legislature moved to limit his ability to appoint officials to state and county election boards, in addition to the UNC System.
Two laws were passed in late December 2016 before Cooper took office on Jan. 1, 2017.
- House Bill 17, a law stripping the governor’s power to appoint members to the BOT of the UNC System. This power now lies in the Board of Governors and General Assembly.
- Senate Bill 4, a law changing how many members of North Carolina's state and county election boards are appointed by the Governor and General Assembly. The law also changed when each political party will chair all boards.
UNC Chairperson of the Faculty Mimi Chapman said the Republican legislature’s actions made both the BOG and BOT less representative of the general public in North Carolina.
“It’s taken a few years for us to get to the point where we are now with this new Board, where really, we have a very highly partisan situation in both the Board of Trustees and Board of Governors,” Chapman said.
The UNC System deferred comments about these 2016 laws to members of the state's legislature. Sponsors of both H.B. 17 and S.B. 4 did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.
Current power struggles
Thomas Ross, the former UNC-System president from 2011 to 2016, said a large majority of governing responsibility falls on the BOG, the board responsible for electing the UNC-System president.
When he was president, Ross said one of the responsibilities of the BOG was to oversee recommendations from the System president to hire chancellors for each campus.
In 2020, the UNC System implemented new rules that gave more power to the president.
In September 2020, the BOG approved a change to the chancellor search process that allows the president to recommend two candidates. Under this policy, at least one of the candidates must become a finalist for the position, even if campus search committees disagree with the choice.
In regards to changes in leadership, Chapman said she thinks there has already been a power shift on the BOT. Chapman said it is tradition that the chancellor makes some suggestions for BOT members, citing that it is not required they will be accepted, but some usually are.
But none of Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz's recommendations were accepted, Chapman said at an emergency Faculty Council meeting in July.
“That’s a pretty aggressive move, and I think it does indicate a power shift if it is left unnoticed, and if it stays in the dark and doesn’t come into the light," Chapman said.
Barbara Hyde, a former UNC trustee from 2005 to 2013, said the rejection of the chancellor's suggestions is a particularly large shift.
When she was a trustee, Hyde said, half of the BOT was appointed by the BOG and the other half by the governor. She said she herself was appointed by the BOG.
“At that time, my impression is that the Board of Governors chose trustees based on a history of service to the University that gave us all a kind of depth of relationship with the University and an understanding of the challenges that faced the chancellor and his team,” she said.
It felt nonpartisan, she said, with her perception being that she was appointed because she had a history of involvement, engagement and service at UNC.
“I think it created more balance and insulated the appointment process a bit more from politics,” she said. “It was really more about the talent we all brought to the Board and our commitment to the University.”
What change is needed?
Chapman said the current power structure raises a lot of questions about how willing the current BOT will be toward advocating for funds in the General Assembly.
“If you think about faculty and staff, we’ve had next to no raises for years now,” she said. “That makes it really difficult for people to stay when there is a significant counteroffer from another institution, or if there’s an equivalent staff position at, you know, down the road at Duke.”
Chapman cites this as an example of the way that UNC faculty, staff and students could be punished for speaking out or not following a particular path important to officials with political interests.
Ross said he felt there was a need for reform in these governing bodies even before he was the UNC-System president.
“The Board of Governors has become more political,” Ross said. “And I think part of that is how they’re appointed and how they’re selected.”
He said this does not serve the University well, and it's better to have a governing body that focuses on what’s best for the UNC System and each of its campuses.
Hyde said more work should be put toward a stronger model of governance.
“I do believe in the strength of the institution,” she said. “I think the job of the trustees is to support the extraordinary faculty, strongest student body we’ve ever had and a strong leader as chancellor — that’s what I believe the priority of the trustees should be.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of members on the Board of Governors. There are 24 elected members that hold jurisdiction for all 17 UNC-System schools. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.