If Belle Wheelan, head of a leading accreditation organization for major universities, was giving members of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors some cautionary notes on politicizing university boards, she was a little late.
Since the takeover of Republicans in the General Assembly, the UNC Board (Wheelan spoke at its meeting in Asheville) has become deeply politicized and dominated by appointees of that legislature, some of whom are former Republican lawmakers. As a result, the board has been in one political fuss after another. It even fired a respected president, Tom Ross, because he was a Democrat. Thus, much damage already has been done to this board, membership on which used to be regarded as a high point of achievement by public-service-minded North Carolinians.
Now appointment is driven by political connections, so the board is almost exclusively Republican. Oh, members listened politely to Wheelan’s cautions about letting politics get the in the way of academic freedom, but many want to abolish a Center for Civil Rights at UNC-Chapel Hill, and others want more say in chancellor selections. The push is to turn the university system’s campuses from their liberal ways.
The Board of Governors, now smaller and more ideological, risks not just its own prestige but that of the UNC system if it continues to be mired in controversy. Unfortunately, it appears the course is set.