March 4, 2020
March 10, 2020
Partners on Higher Ed Accountability in North Carolina

This week, the Greensboro News and Record published an op-ed on embracing more accountability in higher education governance by Partners' president James Toscano and Honorary Director James Koch.

In the piece, Toscano and Koch address the role of a higher education governing boards in the wake of a decision by the University of North Carolina system's Board of Governors to step into the political fray and issue a resolution urging state lawmakers to end the budget statement by passing the currently proposed budget.

"In states across the country, legitimate tensions exist between state legislatures, governing boards and institutional leaders on questions of who’s responsible for priorities such as keeping college affordable. But one thing is clear: To build public trust in the governance of North Carolina higher education, members of the system-level Board of Governors and the institution-level boards of trustees must embrace a public duty and usher in fundamental changes that increase accountability."

Toscano and Koch push back against a perspective expressed by former UNC Board Chair Louis Bissette that the role of governing boards is not to serve as oversight bodies accountable to the legislature, and that boards should feel empowered to "push back" against those who appointed them.

"But independence without accountability is not just imperfect, it’s the enemy of the good — the public good, that is."

The op-ed points to recently passed laws in neighboring Virginia that empower governing boards - while also increasing transparency and accountability - by requiring that trustees be educated that their "primary duty" is to citizens and requiring biennial board training and educational programs.

The resolution issued by the UNC Board of Governors included a directive to individual campus boards of trustees to issue their own concurring resolutions. This expectation of the Board of Governors that campus boards of trustees should blindly follow their lead suggests that trustees exist to serve the interests of the Board of Governors, not the student and family consumers of the schools they serve.

"For example, in North Carolina the power to set tuition resides with the Board of Governors, but the board takes recommendations from campus boards of trustees.
"And if college boards aren’t responsible for oversight of the almost $3 billion in total state spending in the UNC System, then who is? And if these boards aren’t looking out for students and families who pay the tuition bills when adopting budgets, and making tuition and fee recommendations and setting rates, then who is?"

According to Toscano and Koch, replicating Virginia's approach to strengthening board governance in North Carolina could drive board members to balance their fiduciary responsibilities with affordability and accessibility.

"As North Carolina continues to wrestle with major issues like keeping college affordable, strengthening the role of board members who make some of its biggest decisions is a good place to start."

Read the full op-ed HERE!