Lawmakers may trim UNC Board of Governors' ranks

Posted February 2

UNC Board of Governors Chairman Louis Bissette and UNC President Margaret Spellings answer questions about a federal lawsuit against the university system over House Bill 2 during a May 10, 2016, news conference.

— The legislature may trim the number of members serving on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors from 32 to 24, according to a top House lawmaker.

Rules Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, filed a bill Thursday to gradually reduce board's size over the next three years. Joining him as lead sponsors were two fellow Republicans as well as Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake.

"We felt like the number, 32 members, was such a large number it was not an efficient way for a board of directors to operate," Lewis said. Slimming down the board "will be much more effective and efficient," he added.

There are 16 campuses in the UNC system, each with its own board of trustees. The Board of Governors oversees the entire system. With the exception of a non-voting student member, all members of the board are appointed by the General Assembly.

​Lewis said that no one incident precipitated the potential change. The board has found itself in the eye of several major political storms over the past three years, from controversies such as implementing House Bill 2 to raising the salaries of top campus officials behind closed doors to the process that led to UNC President Margaret Spellings' hiring in 2015.

While neither the board nor Spellings formally asked for the legislation, Lewis pointed to a Charlotte Observer editorial board interview in which Spellings suggested a slimmed down board would be more workable.

"I hope I'm not going to get into trouble for saying this too much, but the governance of the university, I just wonder, does it make sense to have a 32-member board … with 17 boards of trustees underneath that with 17 chief executive officers, with me and my staff of 300 in a centralized function, a legislature that sits on top. It's just a lot of layers," Spellings told the newspaper.

Lewis' bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Education - Universities Committee next Tuesday and could receive a floor vote on Wednesday. The legislation is moving quickly, he said, because lawmakers are obligated to make appointments to expiring Board of Governors terms within a month of appointing key committees. Before making those appointments, he said, lawmakers need to know how many openings there will be.

As drafted, House Bill 39 doesn't remove any members of the board, it simply limits appointments made in 2017 and 2019, so more members will rotate off on those years than are put back on.

"If you're ever going to make a change, you want to do it in a way that you're not going to take anything away from anyone," Lewis said.

In terms of winners and losers, lawmakers may come out on the shorter end of this legislation than anyone else. Appointments to the Board of Governors have been viewed as highly sought sinecure political boons that have been used to reward major political donors and backers. A smaller board means fewer favors for lawmakers to dole out.


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