ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.
The University of North Carolina presents interesting problems for governance. It has sixteen campuses, each with its own specific needs and its own trustees. And it is presently run by a Board of Governors whose thirty-two members are selected by the state legislature. The size of the Board, the Board's power to set blanket policy across diverse campuses, and the manner in which Board members are selected all raise the question of whether the UNC system's governance system is structured as well as it could be. This was the question before ACTA when it commissioned the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy to study and assess UNC's governance procedures.
The results of the study, entitled Governance in the Public Interest: A Case Study of the University of North Carolina System, were published last week. The study praised current board members for their commitment to their work, but nonetheless found that the structure of the UNC system diffuses rather than concentrates responsibility, and that as a result the UNC system lacked strong statewide leadership. In a press release, ACTA summarized its findings:
According to the study: "Right now, with legislators selecting every member on the UNC Board of Governors, often with more regard to local considerations than statewide needs, there is no comprehensive vision, no statewide leadership, no clear accountability."
The study recommends that the Governor appoint all governing board members, plus all boards of trustees. "A revised structure would provide valid checks and balances and ensure a clear and constitutional separation of powers," the report says.
"It is much easier for a board to be proactive when a governor appoints them and gives them a mandate to address critical issues consistent with a broad state vision," said Phyllis Palmiero, education expert and author of the report. "The current structure, where the governor has no formal authority over higher education in North Carolina, makes this impossible."
The study finds that the Board of Governors could more effectively address state-wide concerns by a greater delegation of authority to the individual boards of trustees. According to the report, "local trustees are in a much better position to make direct decisions on issues pertaining to their particular campuses than the system-wide board." The study recommends that appointment of senior staff and conferral of tenure, appeals, and compensation be fully delegated to the boards of trustees, with the Board of Governors retaining general oversight.
The study also finds that the 32-member Board of Governors is too large for effective deliberation and recommends that it be downsized to no more than 15 members.
ACTA is distributing the study to Governor Michael Easley, North Carolina state legislators, the UNC Board of Governors, institutional board members, interested citizens, and the media. "The power to appoint is the power to lead," said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. "If higher education is to have statewide leadership, that can only come from the highest elected official, the Governor."
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