Gov. Kerr Scott could not hide his anti-Chapel Hill bias, even in Kenan Stadium.
Stepping up to the microphone at halftime of the 1949 Carolina-State game, Scott, whose blood ran Wolfpack red, announced: “We are rushing the building of a great hospital here.”
Pausing for effect, Scott continued, “because we’re going to need it to take care of the Carolina players after State College gets through with them.” Scott was met with a crescendo of boos from the Carolina crowd, drawing a louder reaction than even UNC All-American Choo-Choo Justice received.
Quipped the acting UNC president, Billy Carmichael: “The two most talked-of men in North Carolina are Choo-Choo Justice and Boo-Boo Scott.”
Scott was a liberal Democrat. Last week, it was a conservative Republican-dominated University of North Carolina Board of Governors that cast a skeptical eye toward Chapel Hill.
The 28-member board stirred up a lot of dust when it began discussing ideas to move the UNC General Administration from Chapel Hill to Raleigh or to the Research Triangle Park; to reorganize the staff of UNC President Margaret Spellings; and to lower student tuition and fees. The board also voted to bar litigation by UNC Law’s Center for Civil Rights.
That covers a lot of ground, but much of it we have seen before. Let us unpack:
There has long been sentiment to move the UNC General Administration out of Chapel Hill, with the idea of weakening the influence of the flagship campus.
Gov. Bob Scott (1969-71) the driving force behind the creation of the UNC board, fought unsuccessfully to have the General Administration located in Raleigh or the Triangle. Bob, like his father Kerr, was a State man.
All flagship campuses, from Charlottesville to Ann Arbor, generate envy from supporters of rival campuses. On top of that, top-shelf academic institutions by their very nature raise uncomfortable societal questions that many traditionalists would rather ignore – from race to poverty.
Tuition has skyrocketed, in part, because the legislature – first the Democrats and then the Republicans – has failed to properly finance the UNC system since the Great Recession.
In raising the question about tuition, board members are following in the footsteps of legendary UNC President Bill Friday, who often stressed that North Carolina is a state dominated by working families and that a higher education should be within the reach of everybody – not just those who have made it.
The board and the president
University politics is changing. I can remember covering the board in the 1970s when Friday presided over the university as the state’s unofficial grandfather and the board was composed largely of patricians – the people who ran the state’s corporate, civic and cultural institutions.
North Carolina today is much larger and diverse. Long before political control passed from the Democrats to Republicans, the blue bloods on the board were replaced by experienced politicians.
Board meetings now are televised. Board members come with their own agendas and are not bashful about expressing them.
Margaret Spellings, former President George W. Bush’s education secretary, should be well-suited for the new environment. But it will take her a while to develop the personal relationships and intelligence networks she needs to negotiate the political minefields.
It should be noted that UNC presidents rarely get a free ride. Friday often dealt with dissent from opinionated Texas oil man Walter Davis. Molly Broad was eased out of the UNC presidency and Tom Ross was given the boot.
Steering a 17-campus system in a state that both cares deeply about its university system and is also deeply politically divided is not child’s play.