Last week, the UNC System’s Board of Governors (BOG) held a special meeting to elect its chair, vice chair and secretary to two-year terms. The current officers Randy Ramsey, Wendy Murphy and Pearl Burris-Floyd were all reelected to their respective positions, with none of them facing a challenger.
Robert Rucho, the one board member who voted against Ramsey, criticized the fact that the election was held suddenly a week before the normal meeting, which was scheduled for May 20. The unexpected change is a bit undemocratic given that Ramsey initially gained his position through another special election after former chair Harry Smith stepped down.
That outcome seems to reaffirm the BOG’s long-held strategy of keeping its actions away from the public eye. While the UNC System has done a great job reacting to the coronavirus pandemic under the board’s leadership, it has made little visible progress on a number of key issues that face our universities, including hiring a permanent system president after Margaret Spellings announced her resignation back in October 2018.
I listed a few issues, like gender-inclusive housing, in a column written after Smith’s resignation, but by far the most impactful one, then and now, is how the BOG has dealt with Silent Sam.
The confederate memorial statue was torn down in August 2018 and, since then, its future has been uncertain. Some called for the statue to be replaced, but the security costs to do so and protect the statue caused much backlash. Leaders briefly floated the idea of building a facility to house the statue in, but this also proved too expensive.
Last year, under Ramsey’s tenure, the UNC System announced a settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, under which the group would gain control of the statue and a trust fund of $2.5 million. Technician’s editorial board strongly criticized the secrecy with which that deal was negotiated, as the BOG intentionally attempted to hide the discussions from public view. The North Carolina Superior Court later struck down the arrangement, leaving the statue in limbo once again.
Ramsey did not create the Silent Sam issue, and he certainly has not been aided by the COVID-19 outbreak, but the BOG has failed under his tenure to resolve its most pressing challenges or even make much forward progress. Worse than this, however, is the lack of transparency which the board consistently suffers.
In addition to the issues with the recent election and Silent Sam, the BOG was slow to decide to refund students some of their housing and dining fees, not announcing their choice until the end of March, a few weeks after they announced campuses closing. While that may not seem too long, President Trump had already signed the stimulus bill into law a few days prior, meaning this state board acted slower than the infamously slow lawmaking process of the federal government. Throughout that time, students had no indication of how likely it was that they would see that money again.
The BOG has a long way to go in changing its policies to better accommodate the diverse student body it’s supposed to represent. But short of fulfilling a potentially challenging wish list of policy changes, it should at least respect students enough to give them notice of the actions it takes on their behalf. Now it is up to Ramsey and the reelected BOG team to pursue more inclusivity and transparency, or remain stagnant in their policies.