Faculty criticize UNC president search process

The UNC Faculty Assembly raises questions about the process used to find the university system's next president. The Board of Governors is expected to make a choice Friday.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A faculty group has blasted the process used to hire the next University of North Carolina president the day before the UNC Board of Governors is due to make their pick known.
"The recent mismanagement of the Executive office of the University, from the firing of Thomas Ross, to the hiring of the new President, is but the most egregious in a long train of problematic governance actions," read a statement from the UNC Faculty Assembly that was signed by Stephen Leonard, a political science professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and the group's chairman, and Gabriel Lugo, the group's chairman-elect who is a professor at UNC-Wilmington.
Friday's meeting of the Board of Governors will cap a contentious year that started with the forced resignation of Ross, the system's current president. Although well-regarded by many inside and outside of the university, Ross was a vestige of a time when Democrats controlled both the legislature and the Board of Governors. Since Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2011, nearly the entire makeup of the board has changed to GOP appointees.
However, even Republican lawmakers and appointees have criticized the manner in which board Chairman John Fennebresque handled what amounted to Ross' firing and the subsequent search for a replacement. Both members of the board and lawmakers have said the process has been too secretive and closed off from input, a line of thought the faculty letter picked up.

"The failure of the Board to seek the advice and counsel of the staff and faculty is both shortsighted and troubling," the letter reads. "No student attends our campuses, no funding agency or organization provides grants of research support, and no business, governmental entity, or civic organization has come to our institutions seeking public service expertise, because of the teaching, research and service achievements of the Board of Governors or the President of the University.

"Yet the Board continues to act without the advice and counsel of the constituencies whose expertise they need to effectively govern the institution."

After a contentious four-hour meeting last week, it appears the odds-on favorite for the job is Margaret Spellings, a former U.S. education secretary under President George W. Bush. She is the only potential finalist who has met in person with members of the Board of Governors and Gov. Pat McCrory. No other candidates have been formally interviewed between the time Spellings was spotted at last week's Board of Governor's meeting and Friday's selection announcement.

A UNC committee is scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon to set salary, benefits and other contract terms for the new president.

Members of the Board of Governors who have spoken with WRAL News on background have said the newly selected president will have a tougher job because of the cloud handing over the search process. That is also a line of thought faculty members echoed.

"The faculty will not prejudge the commitment of new President to the well-being of the University," the letter read. "But he or she must understand that the secretive character of this search, and his or her own indifference to consulting with staff and faculty when s/he was an active candidate for the position, will make it difficult to win the confidence and trust of the University community."


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