UNC Board of Governor’s Chair Harry Smith is stepping down next week, continuing the revolving door at the UNC system that’s left the university in a constant state of flux. His resignation reflects the utter failure of the GOP to manage the state’s Crown Jewel and the folly of their efforts to impose their ideological stamp on higher education. Smith is part of the cabal that fired a competent and respected President Tom Ross and then ran off the GOP’s hand-picked successor, former US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. 

Smith reflects the GOP’s belief that government should be run like a business. While Smith was on the BOG, he was trying to profit from building student housing at East Carolina and North Carolina Central University. “I don’t think he did anything illegal. I don’t think he did anything unethical,” one board member said at the time of his appointment.

Here’s a hint for future GOP appointees. If somebody has to make a statement denying your appointee did something illegal or unethical, don’t appoint them. I know, I know. In the era of Trump it’s difficult to find anyone in the Republican Party who won’t need that disclaimer. Still, do better.

The GOP-run board has scared away Spellings and several chancellors including Carol Folt at UNC-CH and Cecil Staton at ECU. The UNC system is getting a national reputation as a difficult place to work with a micro-managing, ideological board. Top recruits will be difficult to come by. 

Republicans decided that they needed shift the ideological direction of the UNC system. The professors were too liberal and conservative viewpoints got short shrift. They wanted more market-oriented approaches taught in schools and thought part of the solution was to load up the upper administration with business-types. Instead, their top-down approach to institutional change just shows how little they understand public institutions and underscores their bias that public facilities are inferior to private ones. 

The UNC system will survive these Republicans despite their almost comedic bumbling. Professors, administrators and students make universities strong, not ideological bureaucrats removed from student life. Conservatives have less voice in public universities because the students who attend them understand that these government-run institutions are improving their lives. That flies in the face of the conservative dogma people like Harry Smith want to promote.   

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