Under the Dome

UNC board starts fresh with vice chairman

UNC Board of Governors members informally talk among themselves before the start of an emergency meeting of the UNC Board of Governors on the SAS campus in Cary Friday, October 16, 2015.
UNC Board of Governors members informally talk among themselves before the start of an emergency meeting of the UNC Board of Governors on the SAS campus in Cary Friday, October 16, 2015. hlynch@newsobserver.com

It’s a new day for the UNC Board of Governors in the post-John Fennebresque era.

The vice chairman, Lou Bissette, took the gavel Friday after the resignation Monday of Fennebresque, the lightning rod former chairman who was sharply criticized by some board members. Toward the end of the search for a new president, members sent scorching emails asking Fennebresque to step down for the good of the university.

Bissette, an Asheville lawyer and former mayor, asked board committee chairs Thursday to work on relationships among what has been a fractured board. Later that day, Bissette joked, “It’s been three days. I feel like it’s three years.”

University policy requires that the vice chairman serve for a 30-day period before a new chairman election can be held by the board. Bissette said he would run for the remainder of Fennebresque’s term through June 30. The election for a new chairman is likely to happen in December, Bissette said.

“We’ve been through an incredibly tumultuous year. I think the board needs to have a period of calm,” he said. “We had nine new members come on the board in July. They need to be integrated into the board.

“We’ve got 32 smart, successful people – it just needs to be harnessed and get everybody pulling in the same direction,” Bissette added. “I think we’re going to do that.”

The board united Friday in voting for a resolution honoring Fennebresque for his energy and passion. “Chairman Fennebresque led the board and the University through numerous controversial issues of vital importance to its future, and did so without compromising his integrity or values,” the resolution said.

The most important thing now, Bissette said, is to heal divisions as the board prepares for a leadership change when President Tom Ross steps down in January and the next president, Margaret Spellings, starts in March.

“She’s going to expect and deserve an effective, united board because she’s going to need all the help she can get,” Bissette said.

Ross congratulated Spellings publicly Friday and pledged a smooth transition.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

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