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Gov. Roy Cooper vetoes Senate bill to increase size of Board of Trustees

BOT-university-affairs-committee-meeting-coverage
Members of the Board of Trustees listen to Mimi Chapman, Chairperson of the Faculty, speak in front of the board on Wednesday, 22, 2023.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed Senate Bill 512 on Thursday, which aims to change the appointment structure of several North Carolina public boards and commissions — including the UNC Board of Trustees and UNC System Board of Governors. 

The N.C. General Assembly passed the bill on Aug. 17, and Republicans could override the governor's veto because of their supermajority. 

“Fundamentally, it violates the separation of powers enshrined in the state constitution,” Cooper said in his veto.

What is S.B. 512?

If Republicans use their supermajority in the state legislature the bill would increase the size of the BOT by two members — from 13 to 15. 

“There’s always a tremendous amount of work to do, overseeing the University, and anybody that’s so inclined that wants to help out with that, I welcome their addition,” Trustee Perrin Jones said.

Under the new bill, six members would be appointed by the General Assembly and eight would be elected by the BOG. The final, ex-officio member is the UNC student body president. 

In June, the Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina released recommendations to strengthen the NC public university governance system. 

The full report suggested increasing the size of each university’s Board of Trustees to 15 members, excluding ex-officio members. Seven would be appointed by the BOG, four by the General Assembly and four by the governor. 

The Commission also proposed increasing the BOG from 24 to 32 members — the additional eight of which would be selected by the “largest minority party in the House and Senate” —  currently the Democratic Party. 

“This selection requirement will ensure a more bipartisan Board of Governors with greater diversity of political thought and reduce the perception of political influence in university governance,” the report said.

Opposition to the bill 

S.B.512 dictates that each chamber of the state legislature will elect 12 members to the BOG — a change not recommended by the Commission, which suggested eight members be selected by the largest minority party.

State Democrats have expressed concern that the bill is a partisan maneuver by Republicans to allocate more control to their own party.

“Legislative efforts to seize executive power are unconstitutional and damage vital state work,” Cooper wrote in his veto.

The BOT’s behavior has been in the spotlight for potential political motivations since they voted to “accelerate” the creation of a School of Civic Life and Leadership in January. 

Members of the BOT deny that state politics play any role in University governance, but acknowledge the “interplay” between the two bodies. 

“That’s part of being a public institution that is owned by the taxpayers,” BOT Chair David Boliek said.

University Communications told The Daily Tar Heel they have "nothing to add at this time" about the bill or its impact on University governance.

Looking forward

If Democrats continue to challenge the bill’s constitutionality, the decision may go to the state Supreme Court, in which Republicans hold a 5-2 majority.

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“Everyone agrees generally that the amount of power that [the General Assembly] has stripped from the governor is not only politically motivated but unconventional,” UNC law professor Rick Su said. 

He added that the state legislature's efforts to limit Cooper’s power are historically unconventional, especially compared to other states.

“Is it all the way to unconstitutional? That’s an open question,” Su said.

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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