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GOP bill would expand UNC Board of Governors, change appointment process

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GOP bill would expand UNC Board of Governors, change appointment process

May 31, 2023 | 11:15 am ET
By Joe Killian
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GOP bill would expand UNC Board of Governors, change appointment process
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Republican lawmakers are moving to further consolidate control of the UNC Board of Governors in the hands of Senate and House leaders. Image: UNC System

The UNC Board of Governors would gain four new seats and shift from election by the General Assembly to direct appointment under a revised version of a bill moving quickly toward Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.

Senate Bill 512 made a splash when filed last month due to provisions that would further strip powers from the office of the governor and transfer them to the legislature. The bill passed the Senate and is moving swiftly through the House, with a committee substitute filed Tuesday making some important changes for the UNC System’s top governing board.

The General Assembly’s Republican majority already tightly controls the process of nominating and electing political appointees to the board. Democratic lawmakers have complained for years that nominees they put forward are never chosen. They’ve also complained about a lack of racial, gender and political diversity on the board, which went years without a single registered Democrat after GOP lawmakers won a majority and took over the process. The board now has just one registered Democrat.

Under the new version of the bill, the board would expand from 24 to 28 members. In 2017, the General Assembly cut the board from 32 to 24 members, saying the board was too large and unwieldy. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told lawmakers Tuesday the change would bring the board closer to the size it was when he served a single four-year term on it in 1997, when he was 26 years old.

GOP bill would expand UNC Board of Governors, change appointment process
House Speaker Tim Moore this week advocated for adding four seats to the UNC Board of Governors. (Photo: Lynn Bonner)

The bill would also change the way board members are appointed. The House and Senate currently conduct votes in which members choose from a slate of candidates put forward by each chamber. Under the new version of the bill, beginning July 1 2025 and every four years thereafter, each chamber will appoint seven members “upon the recommendation” of their respective leaders, the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tem of the Senate. Members will serve overlapping four-year terms that will commence on July 1 of odd-numbered years.

The changes come in the wake of mounting criticism of the UNC Board of Governors as too partisan and lacking in diversity. Last year the American Association of University Professors released a scathing report on the system and took a rare vote to condemn the UNC Board of Governors and UNC System office for “multiple violations of widely accepted standards of shared governance and academic freedom and for a sustained climate of institutional racism.”

Late last year, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order creating a commission to examine the governance of the UNC System and appointments to its governing board. Cooper tapped two prominent former presidents of the UNC System – Democrat Tom Ross and Republican Margaret Spellings – to lead the effort. That didn’t prevent legislative leaders from dismissing the commission and its work as partisan. The full commission included current and former state lawmakers from both parties as well as current and former members of the UNC Board of Governors and various trustee boards from both sides of the aisle. The commission held a series of listening sessions across the state earlier this year. A report with recommendations for reform is due in June.