Cooper rounds out UNC governance task force

Governor taps a prominent Republican lawmaker for bipartisan task force on university system reforms, but key legislative leadership has already said there's no interest in major changes.

Posted Updated
UNC Chapel Hill Old Well
Travis Fain
, state government reporter

Gov. Roy Cooper has tapped a key Republican lawmaker for a task force studying the power structures at the top of the state's university system, giving the review a bipartisan feel even though GOP leadership at the statehouse has already signaled no interest in reforms.

The governor's Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina will go through some eight months of review, though, and come back with recommendations on how to shift the system's leadership makeup, which depends heavily now on board members appointed by the state legislature's GOP majority.

Cooper announced the exercise earlier this month, saying system leaders should better reflect the state's diversity when it comes to race, gender and political leanings. He named former UNC System presidents Margaret Spellings and Tom Ross as co-chairs at the time. On Wednesday, Cooper's office announced the rest of his appointments, tapping current and former state lawmakers, university faculty and others with ties to the UNC System.

House Majority Leader John Bell, R-Wayne, will be part of the commission, bringing a top member of the GOP's House leadership in on the review.

"If this is about putting politics aside and improving higher education in North Carolina, I'm always willing to listen and have an honest discussion about how we can move our state forward," Bell said in a text message.

The governor also tapped former Republican state Rep. John Fraley, now a member of the system's Board of Governors, and current state Sen. Gladys Robinson, who used to be on the Board of Governors, for the commission. Cooper said in a news release that he expects a "serious, results-oriented review of university governance."

For years Democrats, and some faculty at campuses across the state, have complained of political meddling that tracks back to the General Assembly, which appoints campus-by-campus boards of trustees as well as the Board of Governors, the body that sets policy for the entire system. This review may ultimately recommend changing that appointment structure, but implementing that would require approval from the General Assembly. And when Cooper announced this review, Speaker of the House Tim Moore's office said there was "no interest in changing the structure of the UNC system, regardless of whatever report this politically-motivated commission produces.”

Bell told WRAL News Wednesday that any recommendation to shift appointment powers from the legislature to the governor's office – something Cooper has contemplated but said wouldn't take effect until after he leaves office – likely would be rejected. But if other ideas emerge, "I think those will be looked at," Bell said.

The other appointees announced Wednesday, along with biographical information that the governor's office included in its announcement, follows:

  • W. Louis Bissette, Jr. of Asheville. Bissette is an attorney with the law firm of McGuire Wood & Bissette in Asheville, where he served two terms as Mayor. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Wake Forest University and UNC Asheville, and he is a former member of the Board of Trustees of Western Carolina University and the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina System, serving as Chairman from 2015 to 2018.
  • Dr. Nicole Dobbins of Summerfield. Dobbins is an Associate Professor of Special Education in the Department of Educator Preparation at North Carolina A&T State University. Her research involves equitable and inclusive educational strategies with emphasis on differentiation through the application of Universal Design for Learning. Dr. Dobbins is currently the Vice Chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly and the NC A&T State University Faculty Senate. She is committed to ensuring faculty have a voice in shared governance through advocacy, communication and collaborative efforts.
  • Isaiah Green of Massachusetts. A recent graduate of UNC Asheville, Green is the former student member of the UNC System Board of Governors and the former Student Body President at UNC Asheville. During his time in both of these positions, he worked collaboratively with university and community leaders to ensure students had a voice and were kept engaged in institutional governance.
  • Ann Goodnight of Raleigh. Goodnight has been an advocate for children and education for more than 25 years. She is a co-founder and board member of Cary Academy and a trustee of North Carolina State University. She serves as Chair of the Goodnight Educational Foundation, an active board member for myFutureNC, and serves on the board of directors of the GSK Foundation. In addition, Mrs. Goodnight also serves on the boards of the YMCA of the Triangle and the NC Science Festival.
  • Dr. Clifford A. Jones, Sr. of Charlotte. Jones has served as the Senior Pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte since 1982. Jones previously served on the Winston-Salem State University Board of Trustees.
  • Gary Locklear of Pembroke. Locklear is a retired Superior Court Judge. He is currently working part-time with the Robeson County Attorney’s Office. Locklear has previously served on the UNC Pembroke Board of Trustees.
  • Karen A. Popp of Chapel Hill. Popp is a partner at the global law firm Sidley Austin LLP, where she is an international lawyer and co-leader of her practice group. Popp is the former Chair of UNC Charlotte’s Board of Trustees and Foundation Board. She was the President of the UNC Law Alumni Association and a founding member of the Higher Education Works Foundation. Popp was the first female student body president in the UNC System. Popp has previously served as a commercial litigator at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City, Associate White House Counsel to President Clinton, attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice, and a federal prosecutor in New York City.
  • Hon. Cressie Thigpen, Jr. of Raleigh. Thigpen served as a Special Superior Court Judge and on the North Carolina Court of Appeals. He served as the first African-American President of the North Carolina State Bar in 1999. He is a former Chair of the North Carolina Central University Board of Trustees and previously served on the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.
  • John L. Townsend, III of New York. A native of Lumberton, Townsend moved to New York in 1982 where he spent his professional career at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Goldman Sachs, and Tiger Management. He has served on the Board of Trustees of UNC-Chapel Hill and currently serves as the chair of the UNC Investment Fund which manages the endowments of UNC-Chapel Hill and other System institutions. Townsend also serves as Chair of the current UNC-Chapel Hill Capital Campaign, which will conclude this year.
  • Brad Wilson of Raleigh. Wilson is CEO Emeritus of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. He served on the UNC Board of Governors for 16 years and served as Chair of the Board for 4 years. A graduate of Appalachian State University, Wake Forest Law School, and Duke University, he has served as an Executive in Residence at Wake Forest University and NC A&T State University. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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