By W. Louis Bissette, Jr.
Chair, UNC Board of Governors

North Carolina has a proud bipartisan tradition of building and sustaining public higher education — a cause that benefits all North Carolinians.

As a native of the Old North State, I’ve been both a beneficiary and a dedicated defender of that tradition.  During my time as Mayor of Asheville, a member of the Boards of Trustees of Western Carolina and Wake Forest Universities, and now as Chair of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors, I’ve worked to uphold the values and institutions that strengthen our state.

Two years ago, I became Chair of the Board during a period of upheaval as we lost a president and Board Chair and welcomed a new president.  Our mandate was to help stabilize and provide a shared vision for our great University and its more than 230,000 students; a mandate that means putting commitment to the public ahead of any individual interest.

It took political courage from far-sighted leaders to create the Board of Governors nearly 50 years ago in an effort to free our state’s public institutions from undue political influence. The independent governing board that emerged was designed to provide oversight, accountability, and guidance to our extraordinary System of 17 diverse and exemplary institutions.

It has always been a challenge to maintain the balance of freedom and accountability that has enabled the System to grow into one of the best public higher education systems in the nation. But the Board of Governors long understood it was not designed or expected to manage the day-to-day operations of the University or to choose sides in political controversies.

Today, however, that challenge seems greater than ever before. As a Board, we must return to that balance of freedom and accountability, refrain from any desire to intervene too directly and focus on our responsibility to improve an already excellent System by setting clear policies and expectations, and empowering our President, chancellors, faculty, and staff to meet them.

Accountability is especially important in a public system, but so is a governance structure that allows our campus leaders to use their considerable talents to navigate the many changes facing higher education today.

Under the leadership of President Margaret Spellings, a lifetime public servant and national education leader, and this Board of Governors, the System has aggressively responded to these changes. Our efforts have made our 17 institutions more accessible, more affordable and more focused on preparing students to meet the evolving needs of our state and nation.

We’ve made real progress on behalf of students and taxpayers: a bold strategic plan called Higher Expectations; a visionary statewide commission – myFutureNC- to improve our state’s pathways from Kindergarten to college graduation; and strong advocacy in the General Assembly that produced the University’s strongest budget in a decade.

But as we celebrate our progress, we must remember that the job is not about us — our views, our ideologies, or our individual interests. It is about the people of this great state, people who deserve the benefits and opportunities of a world-class University System.

For over 200 years, our System has served North Carolinians by educating and uplifting this great state. This important work happens far from our Board’s meeting rooms. It happens when a professor at UNC Pembroke trains nurses to serve southeastern North Carolina; when researchers at NC State and NC A&T create breakthroughs that power our economy; when physicians at UNC-Chapel Hill and ECU deliver cutting-edge treatments to families across North Carolina.

As a governing body, our job is to enable and promote this progress. We must operate as a united Board, focused on providing oversight, ensuring accountability and setting System policy while allowing our President, chancellors, faculty and staff to do their job. That’s the higher expectation our citizens have for us, and I’m confident our Board members can rise to meet it.


  1. Sam Poole says

    Mr. Chairman,
    Your comments are a great road map for the Board to follow. As a member once said, “the Board does great service until it stops preaching and starts to meddling”.

  2. Imogene Stevens says

    As a citizen of North Carolina and a wife of a Carolina graduate as well as the mother of 3 sons all of whom benefited from attending universities in the UNC system I wish to applaud the wise words and cautions which President Bissette has expressed in his address to the Board of Governors members. North Carolina cannot reach its potential until and unless all our leaders begin to work together for the good of our State. My thanks to Louis Bissette for being such a leader and providing a model for others to follow.

  3. Susan McEnally Jackson Cook says

    As this governing body is “not about us” it would be advisable to have more diversity on the board. The board is heavily stacked with Republicans and citizens of our state are fairly divided politically. Although the Board is supposedly not a political body, the different parties have differing opinions on the best course of public education in our state. These differing opinions should be brought to the table for consideration as our Board of Governors makes decisions and provides leadership for this once great and highly esteemed university system.

  4. Dr Charles N Reed says

    Dear Sir , I agree with so many of your reports but as a graduate of UNC and UNC School of Medicine and a practicing physician in the state of NC for 34 years, I must tell you that our medical schools are failing the State of North Carolina. I served as a medical student on the Admissions Committee at UNC School of Medicine from 1976-1979 and the feeling of the admissions committee at that time was to admit young people who would likely practice medicine in NC.
    Currently looking at the roster of students at the UNC School of Medicine from the alumni newsletter sent to me it is obvious that this is no longer a priority . From the standpoint of a practicing physician trying to recruit a physician to replace me in a small NC city (Hickory) it is also obvious that UNC is not admitting young people to practice in NC. Several extremely qualified young people from Hickory have graduated from excellent schools (Wake Forest and UNC CH) with interest in going to UNC and practicing in NC and were not admitted to UNC CH. One of these individuals then got an academic scholarship to WF School of Medicine.
    So, in summary , I am not pleased with my alma mater process of medical school admissions. I think, without being so politically incorrect , that their priority is geographic and cultural diversity at the expense of prioritizing supplying practicing physicians to the state of NC.

  5. Susan Wakild says

    The BOG “lost” a president! You fired one.
    I hope your Board responds to your message and does put what is best for the State first.

  6. Rolf M Grandstaff says

    Heartily agree with Mr. Bissette that the BOG “…return to that balance of freedom and accountability, refrain from any desire to intervene too directly…”. The recent meddling in UNC System affairs promoted by an activist legislature undermines academic independence, integrity, and freedom.

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