Under the Dome

UNC bill drops public disclosure of presidential finalists

UNC Board of Governors chair John Fennebresque, left, and UNC System president Tom Ross during a press conference Friday, Jan. 16, 2015. The N.C. House approved legislation Monday night that would change the process for replacing Ross.
UNC Board of Governors chair John Fennebresque, left, and UNC System president Tom Ross during a press conference Friday, Jan. 16, 2015. The N.C. House approved legislation Monday night that would change the process for replacing Ross. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Lawmakers approved term limits for UNC Board of Governors members Tuesday, but dropped a provision that would have required public disclosure of finalists for the UNC presidency.

The action occurred Tuesday night as the UNC presidential search committee met behind closed doors at SAS, the Cary software company. In recent days, the search for a successor to President Tom Ross has become bogged down by internal dissension on the board and complaints by legislators and faculty about a lack of transparency.

On Monday night, the House had passed an amendment from Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat, to require that identity of the three final candidates be made public 10 days before the board’s vote. The amendment also would have required the board to hold at least one meeting at which finalists were discussed publicly. It passed overwhelmingly Monday.

But 24 hours later, another amendment from Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican, removed the public disclosure requirements. It also passed overwhelmingly.

“When you are in the process of hiring someone at this level, it’s just like – actually it’s more important – but it is very similar to when you’re hiring a top flight coach,” Dollar said. “Everybody knows that you don’t disclose all the names that you’re recruiting....Confidentiality is crucial, absolutely crucial, to the ability to recruit and thoroughly vet the level of candidates that we want for a number of positions, but particularly this position as president of the university system, which I think all of us feel very strongly about.”

By Tuesday, Martin agreed, citing the need for balance. “We need to be careful and still preserve the ability of the board to get the best candidates for the presidency of the university system,” he said. “At the same time, I do think it’s important that we do send a message to the board that transparency is important and that they need to do better in that regard….The message should be sent.”

The bill passed the House 107-4, and later cleared the Senate.

It will require the search committee to present three finalists to the full Board of Governors before a selection is made – preventing a situation in which only one finalist is brought forward. That procedure is not required, however, if the board decides to appoint an interim president, according to the bill’s language.

Ross, 65, is scheduled to step down in January, a year after the board took action to push him out as leader of the 17-campus state university system.

The bill had started out in the spring as term-limit legislation. It limits board members to three four-year terms, but current members are allowed to serve out their terms.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

  Comments