UNC-Chapel Hill trustees voted Thursday to cut ties with the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy, which will become an independent entity.
The Hunt Institute, named for former Gov. Jim Hunt, is focused on driving improvements in public education and guiding political leaders to best practices and policy. It is known for convening governors from across the nation to gain a better understanding of education issues.
Though the institute is nonpartisan, it is closely identified with Hunt, a Democrat. The Republican-led legislature ended the institute’s state funding last year, which led to budget reductions and a new emphasis on fundraising.
Officials said this week that the board of the Hunt Institute Foundation decided to make the break after a recent UNC review of its affiliated centers and institutes.
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Internal evaluations were conducted of several UNC-Chapel Hill centers recently, as required by the UNC system’s Board of Governors.
The system board, dominated by Republicans, came under fire last year when it eliminated three centers on poverty, biodiversity and voter engagement. Some said it amounted to a political exercise – especially in the case of UNC’s poverty center, because its liberal director, Gene Nichol, had been an outspoken critic of Republican elected leaders.
In the recent UNC campus review, a team praised the Hunt Institute’s work but said it would benefit from closer integration with the university. However, the UNC system’s new rules governing all centers and institutes would have required significant changes to the institute’s programming and goals.
I think everybody on both sides feels that this is a reasonable outcome, although it probably sounds odd to talk about it that way. But I think it does make sense for the institute to be able to go its own way.
Jim Dean, UNC provost
Alternatives included affiliating with another university outside the UNC system or becoming an independent nonprofit. Last month, the foundation board voted to begin to break away from the university.
UNC Provost Jim Dean said this week: “I think everybody on both sides feels that this is a reasonable outcome, although it probably sounds odd to talk about it that way. But I think it does make sense for the institute to be able to go its own way.”
Hunt, chairman of the foundation board, issued a statement Thursday, saying the institute and foundation “deeply valued” their affiliations with UNC.
“While these actions will allow us to implement an even more ambitious agenda for our future, this has been a very difficult decision,” Hunt said. “We look forward to continuing to collaborate with Carolina for many years to come.”
Chancellor Carol Folt said in a statement that the university was proud that the institute was nationally recognized for its programming and service.
“We recognize that this change will allow the Hunt Institute to expand its critical work even further, which is of tremendous value to the future of higher education,” her statement said.
The institute became affiliated with the Chapel Hill campus in 2008 after being connected to the UNC system’s General Administration for seven years.
The Hunt Foundation Board is exploring options for its structure going forward, and its move out of the university should be complete by July 1.