A move to shrink the UNC system’s Board of Governors cleared a state House committee Tuesday, despite concerns that a smaller board could mean less diversity.
The legislation, House Bill 39, passed 10-3 in the House Education Committee on Universities and could go to the full House on Wednesday. The bill would downsize the board from 32 voting members to 24, with the reduction happening gradually. This year, the legislature would elect 12 members instead of 16, and that would occur again in 2019. Half the board serves staggered terms, with elections in odd-numbered years.
Rep. David Lewis, a Dunn Republican, said the intent of the bill is to make the Board of Governors more effective and efficient. “We believe that by decreasing the total number of people, we will actually get more involvement, more engagement from the members of the board,” Lewis said.
The UNC Board of Governors is one of the plum appointments in the state. Members are typically well-connected people who donate money to legislators and universities. The current board, elected by a Republican majority legislature since 2010, is almost entirely made up of Republicans.
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But Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat, said he’s concerned that a reduction in members would mean less diversity on a board that governs the state’s public university system, which serves 220,000 students at 17 campuses, including five historically black campuses.
My concern is that minority representation on that board will eventually end up being nothing.
State Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat
“My concern is that minority representation on that board will eventually end up being nothing,” Michaux said.
He pointed out that of the 32 current members, four are African-American, and only one has significant experience related to historically black universities. The board is majority white and male, and has no Latino or American Indian members. It has eight female members, including two non-voting members – the student member and a former board chair who is an emeritus member.
Lewis pointed out that 12 percent of the board are African Americans, and four on a 24-member board would represent a larger share. “I don’t think the minority voice will be diminished in any way by this bill,” he said.
A state law used to require that four board seats each be set aside for minorities according to race, gender and party affiliation, until a lawsuit in 2001 forced the end of quotas.
Talk of shrinking the board arose last year after lawmakers criticized the body for its handling of the presidential search and its secretive approval of raises for chancellors. University board appointments also became controversial when the legislature recently stripped the governor’s authority to appoint some members to trustee boards for individual campuses. The change was made after the election of Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.
UNC President Margaret Spellings said what matters is the quality of the people on the systemwide governing board, but having a smaller board is “a meritorious idea.”
I think this is a good change. I actually have some concerns that even with 24, it’s still a large board.
Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Winston-Salem Republican
“You can get a good mix on large boards and small boards and all of that, so that’s the top line,” Spellings said. “But I would say that as a matter of policy, this board, at 32 members, is an outlier around the country.”
Spellings pointed out that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board only has nine members, and university boards have 18 members in New York, 17 in Florida and 20 in Pennsylvania. The average number nationally, she said, is 12.
Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Winston-Salem Republican, said his experience in business made him think the UNC board is too unwieldy. “I think this is a good change,” he said. “I actually have some concerns that even with 24, it’s still a large board.”
Michaux said he doesn’t want to return to a quota system, but wants some assurance that appointments will be fair. “There ought to be a way to be sure that it won’t be an all white board, or all male, or all female, whichever. ... Why can you not have the diversity of the board reflect the diversity of the university system?”