Aside from our public schools and community colleges, there may be no more important institution in North Carolina than the 17-campus University of North Carolina System.
So it was interesting to attend, for the first time, a meeting of the 32-member UNC Board of Governors, which oversees the system. Every other month or so the group gathers, usually in Chapel Hill, for Thursday committee meetings, followed by a shorter meeting Friday morning when the full board usually approves most of the committees’ suggestions. Watching from the side are lines of chancellors or their surrogates, waiting to respond to questions such as why UNC Charlotte is spending more than $20 million on a repair and operations site when it could have bought a former Wal-Mart store just down the street. Because that would have been too inefficient, Chancellor Phil Dubois answered.
I had expected the group to talk strategies on how UNC Chapel Hill would defeat Duke at the next day’s basketball game. But the proceedings were much more mundane.
The main action came when member Craig Souza, a Raleigh nursing home lobbyist, asked the board to speed up the pending merger of the physician practices at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine and Vidant Health, the dominant health care system in Greenville and parts of eastern North Carolina. About 800 docs in those practices are watching closely.
Souza’s suggestion kicked off an hour of debate on who should negotiate the deal and how much input the entire board should have. A few members, with Raleigh’s Temple Sloan III the most passionate, criticized the lack of information sharing about the pending deal. Several members stressed the financial problems facing Brody, arguing a rapid resolution was important on a matter involving tens of millions of dollars.
In a later interview, ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton said it is a sticky problem that is making it hard for him to recruit a new med-school dean.
Ultimately the board gave authority to President Margaret Spellings, Budget Committee Chairman Scott Lampe and Staton to work out an agreement with Vidant. The board will act on the agreement at or before the May meeting, according to the plan. Lampe is CFO of Hendrick Motorsports, the racing team that includes Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The really interesting stuff of boards happens in private, of course. This one is no different. The group held a couple of private sessions on Friday. (Perhaps that’s where they devised the plan that helped Roy Williams beat Coach K on Saturday night.)
But the true intrigue at the BOG – as insiders call it — is who’s going to be at the table later this year. Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law a plan to cut the board from 32 to 24 members by 2019. Twelve members will be selected by the legislature this year, with applications due by Friday March 10, Bissette said. A dozen more will be picked in 2019.
Look for a few former legislators to join the board, if Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore like them. Former Senators Leo Daughtry and Bob Rucho, both Republicans, are rumored to be in the mix. Some current members won’t be headed back.
One can expect all 12 appointees to be Republicans since there are no capable Democrats in North Carolina in 2017, of course. (Just as there were no suitable Republicans back when the Dems ran the legislature.)
An obvious question from a first-time visitor: Will the slimmed-down board be as much of a white mens’ club as the current one? Six of the 30 members now serving are women (there are two vacancies, and two female ex-officio or emeritus members), and there are four African-Americans. Chairman Lou Bissette said he wants to see more diversity. He is a lawyer in Asheville.
Spellings was at the Friday meeting and gave a short report, then left early to attend a family event. An hour later, Bissette announced she would receive a $90,000 bonus based on her first year performance, on top of her $775,000 salary.
Good money, but not quite the $13.7 million pay package for Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good that was also announced on Friday. But when did education ever matter as much as the work of a monopoly utility?