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Our Opinion: UNC campuses cede power to president

Our Opinion: UNC campuses cede power to president

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Of all the most urgent challenges faced by the UNC System, the search process for new chancellors isn’t one of them.

And yet that process may be “fixed” with an unwise, unnecessary and unjustifiable change that very likely makes it worse.

Now UNC President Peter Hans can nominate up to two candidates, one of whom automatically would become a finalist for the job.

This gives far more weight to the president’s recommendations for the post and far less influence to each of the 17 UNC campuses’ trustees.

Under the old policy, the board of trustees at each campus appointed a search committee to recruit and interview candidates. 

From among that field, each board then submitted the names of at least two finalists to the UNC System president.

From among the finalists the president recommended one for approval or rejection by the UNC Board of Governors.

The change turns that process on its ear.

Even though they would go through the same interview process as the other candidates, one of Hans’ nominees essentially would receive a first-round bye into the final round, no matter how those local interviews went.

This not only shifts too much power to the president, it mutes the voices of the individual campuses, whose trustees more directly represent the interests and feel the pulses of those campuses and their surrounding communities. It also could discourage worthy candidates who were not nominated by the UNC president. At the very least, it gives the president’s nominees an unfair advantage.

It also would discourage search committees from putting in the time and energy to recruit and screen policy candidates. Why even bother if it appears the outcome is predetermined? Or, at best, weighted against you?

Then there are concerns by leaders at historically Black campuses, or HBCUs.

“The Board of Governors is overwhelmingly white, male and conservative,” a trustee at N.C. A&T told NC Policy Watch's Joe Killian. “If you look at the boards of trustees at our HBCUs, that is not what you will see there.”

The A&T trustee added: “I’m not saying that people who don’t look like us, who don’t look like our faculty or our students, can’t make a good decision. But there is already a history in this state and this UNC System of Black people being left out of decision making. To now say our trustees, the local people with connections to these schools, can be overruled or have candidates and finalist candidates chosen for us by the powers that be … that is not a good message, it is not a good image, it’s not a good decision.”

Both the Faculty Senate and the American Association of University Professors chapters at UNCG opposed the plan. So did the AAUP chapters at UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University. 

It didn't matter. The change passed after a contentious debate, based on the dubious premise that it gives the UNC System the opportunity to build more "bench strength" by grooming inside candidates.

Among the local delegation, reported the News & Record's John Newsom, Greensboro developer Marty Kotis and Jimmy Clark (a former trustee chairman at N.C. State) voted yes, and Dwight Stone (a former chairman of the UNC-Chapel Hill trustees) voted no. Greensboro resident Isaiah Green, a UNC-Asheville student who is president of the Association of Student Governments, said he would have voted no if he could have. (ASG presidents are nonvoting Board of Governors members.)

Kotis contended that a UNC chairman, like a private business executive, should have the power to choose his key leaders. And that since Hans would be evaluated to a large extent on the job performances of these hires, Kotis said, he should have a greater say.

But UNC is not a private business. And UNC campuses, their communities and state taxpayers have a major stake in these choices as well.

For now, the vote is taken. The deal is sealed. But whatever can be done by the board can be undone.

As for Hans, he pledges to work with trustees and respect their opinions, but nothing in this policy ensures that. We'll have to take him, and future UNC presidents, at their word.

Quash this. Kill it. File it away in the dusty bin of Bad Ideas Whose Time Will Never Come.

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