North Carolina governor Roy Cooper released the preliminary findings of a state commission to investigate the state’s public university governance on Monday, with recommendations for broadening political representation on the UNC system board of governors and on the boards of trustees of its 16 campuses.
The report is from the Commission on the Governance of Public Universities, formed last November by Cooper, a Democrat, to study “instability and political interference” in governance at both the institutional and system level.
The recommendations include splitting Board of Governors appointments between the majority and minority parties in the state Legislature, instead of allowing the entire Legislature to vote on each appointment, a process that would inevitably lead one party’s appointees to dominate.
The commission also suggested lengthening board members’ terms from four to eight years while limiting them to one term on each board, increasing the size of every institution’s board to 15 members and the system Board of Governors from 24 to 36, recording general meetings for transparency, and implementing a “cool-off” period for lobbyists or politicians before they are eligible for an appointment.
The release did not recommend allowing the governor to make appointments; the executive traditionally had four appointments to each university’s Board of Trustees before the Legislature voted to strip him of that right in 2016.
Tom Ross, co-chair of the commission and former UNC system president from 2011 to 2016, said the recommendations are intended to “ensure the voices of all North Carolinians are reflected and represented on the governing boards of our universities.”
Concerns about political influence in UNC governance have grown in recent years, culminating in February when the Board of Governors implemented a “compelled speech ban” that resembled anti-DEI bills in states like Florida and Texas. Tensions have run especially high at the flagship Chapel Hill campus after a series of controversial decisions, including the creation of a new School of Civic Life and the denial of tenure to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.
According to the press release, the commission’s full report will be released “in the coming weeks.”