The UNC System oversees 16 state campuses and makes decisions on issues such as tuition and which campuses need law or medical schools, but lawmakers are talking about a shift in power that critics believe threatens the fundamental role of that system.
"I believe what we did was in the best interest of the state," said founding president of the UNC System, William Friday. "I think it still is."
Friday said rising tuition already threatens to price many deserving students out of state universities. That is why he opposes legislation that would give the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University the power to raise their own tuition rates without approval from the UNC Board of Governors.
"If politics, then, is going to start deciding the internal policy questions of the university, then we've really opened up a new arena where there are no holds barred," Friday said.
Supporters argue universities need alternative funding when tax dollars run out.
UNC-Chapel Hill Trustee Chair Richard Williams argues universities are not all one-in-the-same and he believes a major research campus needs tuition flexibility to attract and retain the best professors.
"I don't think it fractures the university system," Williams said. "I don't think it undermines the authority of the system's Board of Governors. It simply recognizes the fact that we're going to have to do something different."
The bill's backers like Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand contend local campuses know what is best for them. Rand and his Jones Street colleagues are being lobbied hard by the heavyweight political action committee, Citizens for Higher Education.
The Chapel Hill boosters want autonomy and it poured well over $300,000 into legislative contributions last election cycle to be heard.
"I have really not looked with favor upon those activities," Friday said.
Rand said the group is not dictating debate.
"How could they be? They need to take that money and file for the legislature if they want to dictate policy," Rand said.
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