Jay Schalin of the Martin Center responds to recent attacks against the University of North Carolina system’s Board of Governors.
Attacks by academics and the media on the University of North Carolina system’s Board of Governors have become a major part of the state’s political landscape in recent years, and such attacks may be intensifying. The board is described at times as inept, divisive, “partisan,” “anti-intellectual,” and mean-spirited; unless they are “reined in,” North Carolina’s public university system will suffer a great loss of prestige, deny academic freedom, and become the tool of oafish politicians.
But that is mere political rhetoric. Despite the negative impression its opponents try to present, the current members of the UNC Board of Governors tend to be more engaged, more willing to address difficult issues, and more understanding of their proper positions atop the system than their predecessors. If there is more conflict than previously, it is because prior boards abdicated their role to exercise oversight of the system and campus administrators. And because the current board’s predecessors ignored problems and left behind a system in need of change.
For most of the UNC system’s history, Democratic legislators appointed a large majority of Democratic board members who hired Democratic system presidents to oversee liberal academics; naturally, there was little conflict. All the gears meshed as in a well-oiled machine: Board members universally rubberstamped the wishes of administrators and board meetings seem more like friendly social gatherings than events where important decisions were to be made.
Not so today. And some powerful interests wish the public to believe that the board is causing problems rather than attempting to solve them.