Op-Ed: How and why to repair a broken UNC System

Fixing problems in our university system will require us to identify systems and reform them

| December 23, 2015
Former U.S. Education Secretary, now-UNC President Margaret Spellings delivers remarks with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during the opening of the Foundation for Excellence in Education national summit at Disney's Contemporary Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on Thursday, June 19, 2008. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

Former U.S. Education Secretary, now-UNC President Margaret Spellings delivers remarks with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during the opening of the Foundation for Excellence in Education national summit at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on Thursday, June 19, 2008. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

Whenever I get a chance, I always talk to folks about systems. Whether we are speaking about college acceptance statistics, standardized tests, the housing market, literacy (financial, educational, mechanical, etc.), K-12 education, government or prison it all boils down to systems. Who is impacted, who benefits, and why? To an extent, we have behaved as if these systems or the people who lead or operate within them are correct in how they do so but I believe in one particular system in North Carolina we can and should do better and it can happen within 4 years.

The University of North Carolina System is broken. The tipping of the iceberg and later melting of the glacier was not Margaret Spellings, her inexperience and compensation. It was the appointments to the Board of Governors after Republicans took over the General Assembly. It was the more than 300 million dollars in cuts from the UNC System over the last three budgets; the melting of the glazier and sudden flood that is our education system was indeed the unethical and immoral firing of President Tom Ross, the former budget director Karl Rove and the fact that appointments will be up in a year and we need new leadership on the Board of Governors.

We need to elect Democrats and Republicans to the General Assembly who will take these concerns seriously. The UNC Board of Governors and individual universities Board of Trustees are becoming the new North Carolina Department of Transportation where the highest or most consistent donor receives an appointment. No longer are these appointments weighed with résumés and records but with check books and Super Political Action Committees. Governor McCrory, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers have successfully sold the soul of the Great North State and it’s time to buy it back. We will buy back this state through our votes; it is the one currency that all North Carolinians and most young people refuse to spend.

Our new General Assembly must file a bill to restructure the UNC System. The demands are simple and realistic and will keep North Carolina’s crown jewel in the possession of actual North Carolinians. This bill must:

  • Create a new makeup of the Board of Governors, specifically a thirty (30) member board made up of six (6) appointments from the North Carolina House, six (6) appointments from the North Carolina Senate.
  • One (1) appointment from the Speaker of the House, one (1) appointment for the House Minority Leader, one (1) appointment for the Senate Pro Tempore, one (1) appointment for Senate Minority Leader.
  • Two (2) appointments by the Governor of North Carolina. One (1) each for the remainder of the Council of State. One (1) appointment by the President of the Community College System, two (2) for the President of the UNC Association of Student Governments (ASG).
  • The General Assembly should create staggered terms between the appointments of each house of the general assembly and split the staggered terms of the Council of State. All appointments consist of four (4) year terms with no more than two terms served consecutively.
  • Except in the case of the two (2) appointments by the President of the UNC Associate of Student Governments (ASG), the appointments should consist of two year terms with no more than two terms served consecutively.
  • Of the 30 appointments at least three (3) from each house of the General Assembly,  two (2) from the Governor, and both appointments from the President of the UNC Association of Student Governments must live in North Carolina and have graduated from a UNC System School. Distance Education, Associate Degrees and Certificates do not qualify.

These provisions will place the “University of North Carolina” back into the UNC System. Furthermore, it puts more power into the hands of regional, elected and appointed stakeholders of North Carolina. It is essential that the President of the Association of Student Governments receive two appointments because that President was elected by the student body presidents of the each individual campus.

The 16/11 appointment ratio between the legislature and executive branch is important because of the length of those elected terms and because it holds these elected officials more accountable while still allowing a Governor and Council of State to govern as she or he sees fit without taking into consideration the “politics” of an appointment.

This only solves half of the problem that is the UNC System. The General Assembly must reform all individual UNC System Schools Board of Trustees as well and shift the power from political appointments to faculty, staff and student stakeholders.

Our new General Assembly must file a bill to restructure the Board of Trustees at each university. The demands are simple and realistic and will keep North Carolina’s crown jewel in the possession of actual North Carolinians. This bill must:

  • Create a new makeup of the Board of Trustees, specifically a thirty (30) member board made up of six (6) appointments from the North Carolina House, six (6) appointments from the North Carolina Senate.
  • Two (2) appointments from the House Representative representing the district in which the University sit, two (2) appointments from the Senator representing the district in which the University sits.
  • Six (6) appointments by the Governor of North Carolina. One (1) by the Mayor of the City in which the University sits, one (1) for the Chairman of the County Commission of the county in which the university sits, two (2) for the Student Body President of the campus and Four (4) for the Student Government Association Senate.
  • The General Assembly should create staggered terms between the appointments of each house of the general assembly. All appointments consist of 4 year terms with no more than two terms served consecutively.
  • Except in the Case of the Student Body President of the campus, those appointments should consist of 1 year terms with no more than two terms served consecutively.
  • Except in the case of the Mayor and Chairman, those appointments should consist of 2 year terms with no more than two terms served consecutively.
  • Of the 30 appointments at least three (3) from each house of the General Assembly,  two (2) from the Governor, and all appointments from the Student Body President must live in North Carolina and have graduated that individual UNC School.
  • Citizens of North Carolina who have graduated from multiple programs at more than one UNC System School may not serve more than two terms in the aggregate and must wait four (4) years before being eligible for appointment at another UNC System Schools Board of Trustees. Distance Education, Associate Degrees and Certificates programs do not qualify.

Reforming each UNC Schools Board of Trustees puts the power back in the hands of the Student Government Association and gives them more say over tuition and fees, capital projects and a direct line to lobby the city, county, and general assembly on their own behalf. The goal of the university should be to incubate leaders, thinkers and shakers of thought and we must give students the space, access and power to do so. The General Assembly has a lot of work to do. They must require that all tuition and fee increases be put to a vote by the combined Board of Trustees and Student Senate in order reduce the burden on students to make them feel like they are actually stakeholders at their universities, not just a goldmine.

There are more than 230,000 students enrolled in the UNC System and no one knows that we as students exist, our voices are muffled, our backs are laden with debt, our Student Government Associations and advisory boards are weak and our system is corrupt from the legislation that created the system to the closed session meetings that affect us. We demand change, let’s make the elections of 2016 the starting point.

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Category:Opinion, Politics, Student Life

Sean Grier Sean Grier is a writer for the Opinion Section for the 2013-2015 academic year. He is a History major with a Political Science & Secondary Education minor. Sean has been writing for the NinerTimes since his freshman year. He can be contacted at sgrier16@uncc.edu.

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Sean Grier Sean Grier is a writer for the Opinion Section for the 2013-2015 academic year. He is a History major with a Political Science & Secondary Education minor. Sean has been writing for the NinerTimes since his freshman year. He can be contacted at sgrier16@uncc.edu.