ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

A Welcome Call for Board Oversight in NC

September 24, 2014 by Avi Snyder

When the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) governing board met for its most recent retreat, they received an important reminder from the state’s outgoing Budget Director, Art Pope.

According to the News & Observer, Pope was invited to “give the board a fiscal rundown in advance of the fall budget preparation season.” But the budget director, who has long been a vocal higher ed reformer as well, also took some time to encourage the board to exercise more oversight over the millions of federal dollars that “flow to UNC campus leaders in conjunction with research grants.” Totaling $260 million in 2012-13 for UNC’s Chapel Hill campus alone, this federal money is intended the school’s “facility and administrative costs for federal research.”

Pope’s comments dovetail with the recent Governance for a New Era report issued by 22 national higher education leaders, which calls on college and university governing boards to take a more active role in institutional oversight. The report emphasizes that trustees “are responsible for the mission [and] institutional priorities” of their schools. A key part of exercising that responsibility is proper oversight of how taxpayer dollars are spent on research. As the stakeholders most directly responsible to the public, it is the duty of trustees to make sure such funds are being spent responsibly and in accordance with the mission of their institution.

As ACTA uncovered in Getting What You Pay For? A Look at America’s Top-Ranked Public Universities, many public flagships don’t exactly have their priorities in order. At more than half of the schools we looked at (including UNC) growth in administrative spending outpaced growth in instructional spending, and 33 of the schools allowed athletic spending to grow faster than spending on instruction as well.

When it comes to responsible oversight of taxpayer money, trustees need to affirm that the buck stops with them. Pope’s call for just that is a message we hope UNC’s trustees take to heart.

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