The Republican-controlled General Assembly on Monday sent its first bill of the year to new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper — legislation reducing membership on the board overseeing the University of North Carolina system's 17 campuses.
With the Senate's final vote, Cooper will have 10 days to decide whether to sign the measure reducing the UNC Board of Governors from 32 voting members to 24, veto the bill, or let it become law without his signature. The margins of the final chamber votes, including 38-7 in the Senate, indicate a veto could be overridden. Cooper hasn't said publicly what he thinks about the measure.
The measure received final approval after an hour of Senate debate floor debate in which several black Democrats expressed concerns that decreasing the board by 25 percent would make it harder to retain minority members on the prestigious panel. Senate and House members elect the board members in odd-numbered years. The board would initially drop to 28 members this summer.
Republicans pushing the measure say fewer members would lead to more efficiency and effectiveness. UNC system President Margaret Spellings released a statement late last week saying the proposal "fits with a natural pattern of modern and effective governance and greater operational efficiency."
"We have the opportunity to find the right balance in governance and accountability — system-level governance should remain focused on broad goals and accountability measures," Spellings said.
Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford and a former UNC board member, offered an amendment somewhat similar to one defeated last week that would have required legislative leaders to appoint to the board some who were graduates of an historically black system school, a graduate of other non-research campuses, someone from a rural area and people from a political party not of the appointing leader. Currently there are four black board members.
"This does not talk about quotas — this talks about diversity," Robinson said. Still Republicans said it sounded like set asides previously in state law that were the subject of a federal lawsuit and ultimately removed in 2001 by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly at the time.
State law that remains in place says selections to the board should be based in part on "their knowledge and understanding of the educational needs and desires of all the state's citizens, and their economic, geographic, political, racial, gender and ethnic diversity."
Republicans used a parliamentary maneuver to block a vote on Robinson's amendment. The maneuver's vehicle was a replacement amendment by Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, that would have required "ideological balance in faculty hiring" within the system. Hise said his amendment, which also wasn't voted upon, was designed to point out "the fallacies of the arguments that we need to create slots" for certain groups.