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Panel examining UNC system governance holds first meeting

Police officer at UNC Charlotte
Jodie Valade

RALEIGH, N.C. — A panel asked by Gov. Roy Cooper to recommend changes to how governing boards of the University of North Carolina system and its member schools are chosen met for the first time on Wednesday.

The Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina convened in Raleigh, with about a dozen of its 15 appointees participating. They include co-chairs Tom Ross and Margaret Spellings, two recent UNC system presidents.

Cooper, who unveiled the panel's creation last month, stopped by the meeting shortly before the panel's members were sworn in to reiterate its goals.

The Democratic governor said the UNC Board of Governors and trustee boards for its 17 member schools need to better reflect the diversity of the state's population when it comes to things like race, gender and political views.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly elects the 24 voting Board of Governors members. Just before Cooper took office in early 2017, the legislature took away the governor's ability to appoint some campus trustee board members and gave those choices to legislative leaders.

"We know there are signs of trouble that come when all of the appointed leaders are chosen by too few — signs of intolerance, bureaucratic meddling, undue influence, and singularity of political thought,” he told the panel.

Cooper would like a report next year, but the chances that recommendations will be implemented by the upcoming iteration of the General Assembly appear low. Republican legislative leaders have expressed little interest in overhauling the governing framework.

“Maybe what you adopt, some of it gets adopted (soon), maybe none of it,” Cooper told panelists. “But it is there, it will be a living, breathing document. I guarantee you it will get waves of public support.”

Two appointees who are General Assembly members — House Majority Leader John Bell and Democratic Sen. Gladys Robinson — weren't at the meeting when Cooper visited Wednesday morning.

Wednesday's agenda described presentations on the history of the UNC system, the demographics of the state's public university boards and how universities in other states are governed.

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