Incoming UNC system chairman wants to keep tuition low

Posted June 18, 2012 5:38 p.m. EDT
Updated June 18, 2012 7:33 p.m. EDT

— Raleigh businessman Peter Hans wants to be the man who helps preserve and strengthen the University of North Carolina system, which has dealt with deep budget cuts in recent years and now is facing an academic fraud scandal at its flagship campus.

"I have a passionate commitment to higher education and North Carolina," Peter Hans said Monday.

Hans, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and senior policy adviser for the law firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, will succeed Hannah Gage as chairman of the UNC Board of Governors on July 1. He has served on the board for nine years, including the last four as vice chairman.

Keeping tuition low is one of his main priorities, he said, citing the North Carolina constitution's provision to make higher education affordable for everyone.

"We want to be true to that constitutional mandate and, I think, our moral responsibility to keep tuition as affordable as possible," he said.

Hans said he supports the plan implemented a few years ago by former UNC President Erskine Bowles that caps tuition increases at 6.5 percent a year, except in extreme circumstances.

"Our challenge is to manage our resources efficiently and effectively at this time so that we can educate as many students as possible at the highest quality but doing so at a reasonable cost," he said.

He said he wants to see more private fundraising, a better relationship with community colleges – he served for six years on the board of the North Carolina Community College System – and greater utilization of online classes.

"There are several ways we can work more efficiently and effectively," he said.

Last week, UNC President Tom Ross asked four members of the Board of Governors to review UNC-Chapel Hill's investigation into academic irregularities involving a former faculty member.

The campus has found 54 classes in the African and Afro-American Studies program had little or no indication of instruction and at least 10 cases of unauthorized grade changes for students who didn't do all the work.

Julius Nyang'oro resigned last August as chairman of the department amid the investigation into academic fraud involving Tar Heel football players. He finished his work at UNC in May, and his retirement takes effect July 1.

"My paramount concern and the board's top priority is the academic integrity of the university system, and that's got to come first," Hans said.

He said he wants to let the university panel do its work before determining whether administrators handled the situation appropriately.

"People feel very strongly about these issues, as well they should, and I'm glad they do. But right now, I think we shouldn't pre-judge the outcome of the panel's review," he said.

Hans, a Republican, is taking over the nonpartisan Board of Governors, which has traditionally been led by a Democrat. He said, however, that every board member cares about the UNC system, so there shouldn't be any political tussles – aside from lobbying lawmakers for better funding.

"We've got to be effective advocates for the university system," he said.