Good governance can take many shapes and forms, depending on the organization and circumstance, and is not always easy to see or detect. Bad governance is different – like many things, you know it when you see it.
And what we saw at a recent meeting of the UNC Board of Governors was clearly bad governance.
• First, an individual board member took it upon himself to retain a third party to do a background check on the UNC President’s recommended candidate for Chancellor of Western Carolina University.
• Second, a committee chairperson allowed the unanimous recommendation of a candidate by her committee and her President to be overturned by the board without returning it to the President or the committee for their input and recommendation. This inappropriate action severely undermined both.
We have been blessed with great leadership of our Universities, going back to the days of Bill Friday, followed by the highly successful Dick Spangler, then Molly Broad and the nationally respected Erskine Bowles and Tom Ross. All of them were given strong support and freedom to act by our large and cumbersome Board of Governors, the Legislature, and state leaders.
Large boards such as our current Board of Governors (formerly 32 members, and now 28) can only function when the Chief Executive is allowed to run the enterprise with strong support and appropriate input from the Board. Micromanagement has no place in good governance.
Margaret Spellings is extremely qualified to do her job. She has extensive experience in education, government and administration. She is very good at running our University System; if given the chance, she could be great. Our search committee did a good job in selecting her.
A lot of very smart people have judged our University System to be the most valuable asset this state has. Our system of higher education is respected nationally as one of the best. It is what has set this state apart for decades. It has helped make us the forward-thinking state we have always been considered. Without it, we would not have the Research Triangle Park, one of the most successful research parks in the world, fostered by visionary leaders in business and academia.
Unfortunately, it appears our Board of Governors has become increasingly politicized, and some members are conflicted. Politics has no place in the selection of members, and any conflicts of interest must be avoided. Boards must have a high level of independence and professionalism to be effective.
What we saw last month was not good governance. Our state, our President, our faculty, our students, our entire University System deserve better. What we witnessed will negatively affect the quality of people willing to come to our Universities as Chancellors, faculty and staff.
Good governance has many positive aspects. Maybe the most important is to attract and retain great talent and leadership. We ask our legislators and our Board of Governors to remember that they serve the people of North Carolina. They can and should do better.
Signed by the following former members of the UNC Board of Governors:
Peaches Gunter Blank