Saturday, April 13, 2024

Bill would give lawmakers say in community college system prez pick

The Senate Education/Higher Education committee wants the General Assembly to claim confirmation powers over hires for the presidency of the N.C Community Colleges, like it does for cabinet agencies.

Committee members added the confirmation provision this week to House Bill 149, an otherwise unrelated measure dealing with remote charter schools. The move came at the request of Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Moore.

McInnis, who’s the Senate majority whip, said later that he’s “complained loudly and longly” about the process as the Community Colleges has cycled through six permanent or interim presidents since 2015. He believes there’s need for  “another set of eyes and another set of thought processes” to screen candidates, and added that he is “not alone” in that.

“Right now we have the greatest strain and burden on the community college system we’ve ever had, from the standpoint of all the new multinational, big businesses that are moving manufacturing facilities here,” he said. “So we don’t need any lost motion or any confusion. And we’ve had confusion, because we’ve had presidents that have not been able to lead.”

His amendment specifies that when it selects a new president, the State Board of Community Colleges, like the UNC System’s Board of Governors, should chose from “at least three final candidates,” going with the one that receives a majority vote.

It will then submit the name to the House and Senate, which would have to pass a joint resolution confirming the choice. Failure by the chambers to act within 30 legislative days would constitute denial.

The community colleges board’s selection could serve as interim president, but if the General Assembly denies confirmation, that person could no longer serve as president or interim president.

The proposal appears to have Senate leadership support.

“The community college system is an integral part of our education and workforce training ecosystem, but it has seen a significant amount of turnover in its presidential office,” said Lauren Horsch, spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. “To bring stability to the system, it is in the state’s best interest to have the General Assembly add an extra layer of review and confirm the presidential pick.”

She added that “at this time there is no proposal to extend the confirmation beyond the community college system president.”

McInnis, however, said the move “absolutely” could become a precedent for future presidential hires for the UNC System. He did not see extending confirmation requirements to the level of campus presidents or chancellors.

“We don’t need to get down in the weeks,” he said, noting that legislators have contented themselves with confirming cabinet secretaries.

He added that he and other legislators would be “derelict in our duty” if they failed to exercise oversight.

“The General Assembly of North Carolina has the care and custody and control of the education system of K-12 and higher ed  in North Carolina, and we pay for it, at almost 60% of the budget,” he said. “It is our baby.”

Turnover in the Community Colleges presidency was once the exception rather than the norm, with past presidents like former Gov. Bob Scott and former U.S. Rep. Martin Lancaster both serving for more than a decade.

But since former President Scott Ralls left in 2015, no president has served more than about two years. Accounts have suggested that two of his successors — former S.C. Technical College System President Jimmie Williamson and former gubernatorial Chief of Staff Thomas Stith — were forced out. A third, Peter Hans, was promoted to the presidency of the UNC System.

(This story previously ran in the N.C. Tribune.)


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