Governor Cooper Signs Executive Order Establishing Commission on the Future of Public Universities in North Carolina

Last Updated on November 2, 2022 9:43 am

Former UNC System Presidents Tom Ross and Margaret Spellings will lead effort to review governance structure, system leadership processes to position university system to meet future needs


Nov 1, 2022

Today, Governor Roy Cooper signed an Executive Order establishing the Commission on the Future of Public Universities to advise the Office of the Governor and the public on the status of public higher education governance in North Carolina and on strategies to successfully position the state’s universities and colleges to meet the needs of future students.

Tom Ross, President of the University of North Carolina (UNC) System from 2011 to 2016 and Margaret Spellings, President of the UNC System from 2016 to 2019, will serve as co-chairs of the bipartisan Commission. Ross previously served as a superior court judge and president of Davidson College. Spellings served as the U.S. Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush.

“North Carolina’s public universities are our most valuable assets and the key to building a stronger economy with opportunity for everyone and they need serious, diverse leadership committed to working together for the good of our students, faculty, future employers and our state. Seeking unbiased review and recommendations on proposed reform from bipartisan leaders with first-hand experience building our great universities will ensure the UNC System’s continued success and I appreciate President Ross’s and President Spellings’s willingness to lead this commission,” said Governor Cooper.

A strong public higher education system is a vital part of North Carolina’s economic and workforce development. It plays a critical role providing affordable, world class educations to North Carolina students, and serves as a major economic driver across the state. To govern the system, the UNC Board of Governors was established in 1971 to be a nonpartisan body of leaders that would promote the university system’s essential role to “communicate knowledge to address the needs of society.” Each UNC institution also has a Board of Trustees to advise the Board of Governors and the institution’s chancellor on matters pertaining to that institution. The Board of Governors and some of the members of each Board of Trustees are selected by the General Assembly in a tightly controlled process led by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem of the Senate. The other members of the Boards of Trustees are selected by the Board of Governors.

Unfortunately, a spate of controversies over the last few years has led to concerns that boards plagued by undue political influence and bureaucratic meddling hinder effective university governance. Instability and political interference can have significant impacts on campus leadership, turnover and academic experience for students, and can threaten the university’s reputation and the state’s economy and communities.

The Commission will assess the current appointment system of public university governance in North Carolina and make recommendations to the Governor on how it can be reformed and strengthened. Members of this Commission will come from varying backgrounds related to experience with the UNC System, general experience with higher education governance, and experience with higher education best practices.

The Executive Order requires commissioners to deliver a report no later than eight months from the Order’s signing. The report will include an assessment of the current public university governance structure and any additional recommendations as requested by the Governor regarding the need for support and oversight of the state’s public universities.

“Our government and our institutions are strengthened by a periodic review of our structures, our priorities and our commitment and I look forward to working with the members of this task force to consider the issues before us and make recommendations to the Governor and other policymakers. I am pleased to be a part of this effort because I strongly believe in the centrality and criticality of our institutions and especially our universities to serve all people as engines of prosperity and the public good,” said Margaret Spellings.

“The University of North Carolina System is an unparalleled asset for our state and a comprehensive review to ensure that our governance structure is designed to enhance these institutions and meet the rapidly changing demands of the future is the right thing to do,” said Tom Ross.

Read Executive Order 272.

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