Asked about recent turmoil on the UNC Board of Governors, Phil Berger intoned, “the board is making some changes to to the university functions and operates. That’s going to result, I think, in some folks not being fully happy with that.” Those “folks” encompass roughly the entire faculty and student body of the UNC system; to say they’re “not fully happy with that” is an almost insulting understatement. This board of governors is systematically undermining our university system. And yesterday’s vote to return them to office proved, beyond a doubt, who is really behind the campaign.
As always, the GOP voted as a unified mass. There was no dissent from leadership’s effort to keep this heedless board of governors fully intact. Even Thom Goolsby, a man reviled on our flagship campus, was easily confirmed. Several alternative candidates withdrew their names, knowing the futility of challenging the Senate machine. Democrats were excluded from the process entirely. At a moment of crisis for our state’s crown-jewel asset, when political upheaval is taking a toll on UNC’s reputation and destabilizing multiple campuses, Phil Berger’s caucus stood pat.
It’s not hard to discern the reasons for their complacency. Berger has assembled a board that is fully in line with his mentality toward the universities. Simply put, he loathes them–or at the least, wants them transformed into Hillsdale College-esque conservative citadels. This is not an accusation, it is a fact based on extensive evidence. Since taking control, Berger has cut the university’s budget by millions of dollars, repeatedly denounced phantom “faculty bias,” imposed a pro-industry “Policy Collaboratoy” on an Environmental Science department that didn’t want it, and attempted to use budget cuts to silence Gene Nichol.
The Board of Governors, for its part, has actively advanced Berger’s goals. It wasted no time in firing Tom Ross–a respected university leader–because he was a Democrat. Sharing Berger’s contempt for justice and civil rights, the Board shut down UNC’s civil rights clinic. They have driven off several more leaders for getting in the way. (Carol Folt was grossly overrated, and her departure does not deserve lamentation) Board leaders stood back while Thom Goolsby belligerently fought for Silent Sam. There’s never been any daylight between the BoG and the legislature.
On Thursday, Berger rewarded them for their pliability. His comments on the vote indicated delight with the direction they’re taking our universities. By the evidence, we can expect long-term efforts to dismantle and ideologically revolutionize the UNC system. Unless, of course, Democrats take the legislature. That’s the way forward for UNC supporters.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.