Will the new trustees of UNC-Chapel Hill better represent the students?
New members starting their tenure on the UNC board this month will make the new board slightly more racially and ethnically diverse than the outgoing one. But some campus activists say the disconnect between the board and the student body runs deeper.
The board of directors that voted on Wednesday to approve Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure was made up of 10 white men, a black man, a black woman and a white woman. It was their last vote as a board of directors.
The incoming board is a bit more diverse with nine white men, two black men, an Asian-American man, and a white woman.
Yet the board does not represent the student body.
“We ask if this table is useful at all,” said Julia Clark, vice president of the Black Student Movement at UNC.
“Going from a council of 10 white men which is not representative and has no transparency to a council of nine white men which is not representative and has no transparency is not the solution,” he said. Clark said. “They just give us a crumb, and we’re not here to ask for crumbs.”
Administrators do not reflect students
UNC-CH enrollment data shows that more than half of students are women (59%), while only two women sit on the 13-person board. The board was 85% white and now it’s about 70% white, while the student body is 58% white.
Some students expressed doubts that a board of directors, whatever its composition, could be truly representative of the nearly 30,000 people enrolled in UNC courses.
The board has a student representative, who this year is Lamar Richards, the first president of the openly gay black student body at UNC.
Clark said that to be useful, the board needs to have more students and generally members with a wider range of views, opinions, ideas and experiences. He also needs younger members, she said.
“We can’t connect with someone who went to Carolina 40 years ago,” she said.
“I think it’s racist and ageist,” said Greensboro-based real estate developer Marty Kotis, who is joining the board after two four-year terms on the UNC system’s board of governors. “I don’t want someone to think of me as a 52-year-old man and judge me by my age. I certainly don’t do this in my business; I don’t judge people by their skin color or their age.
Kotis said his years on the board of governors showed him that while the experience of students at UNC and other universities in the system is an important focus, his primary responsibility is to the 10 million. ‘State residents who help pay to operate and maintain each Campus. Students are enrolled for a few years, he noted, but the system needs to take a long-term view for schools to be competitive and sustainable.
This involves making sure faculty and staff feel they are being paid fairly, Kotis said. Not to mention the Hannah-Jones case, Kotis said his gripe about the tenure was that it sometimes resulted in overpaying some professors at the expense of many others. And, since this is a lifetime contract, it may mean that some professors stay for years after their expertise has become stale, he said.
The board must therefore be representative of the entire state, Kotis said, not just students, faculty and staff.
“When that electrician or plumber pays for your education, you can’t thumb your nose at them and say they shouldn’t have a say in it.”
Who are the administrators of UNC-CH?
Every two years, the board of the UNC system appoints four people to the board of directors of each university, including UNC-CH. The North Carolina General Assembly also appoints two trustees to each school’s board.
Earlier this spring, the board of governors voted to add four former UNC-CH students to this campus board: former State Senator Rob Bryan, former member of the House of NC Perrin Jones reps, DraftKings executive Malcolm Turner and businesswoman Ramsey White.
The NC General Assembly voted to elect Kotis, a developer from Greensboro, and Vinay Patel, who owns a chain of hotels in Charlotte.
They replace UNC-CH Board Chairman Richard Stevens, Jeff Brown, Munroe Cobey, Haywood Cochrane, Chuck Duckett and Kelly Hopkins. Cochrane is the only outgoing director to vote no for Hannah-Jones’ term.
The current board members are Vice President Gene Davis, Secretary Teresa Artis Neal, David Boliek, Allie Ray McCullen, Ralph Meekins and John Preyer. Boliek, McCullen and Preyer also voted no to Hannah-Jones’ tenure.
The first meeting of the new directors with the board of directors will take place on July 14th and 15th.
Representative Graig Meyer, a Democrat serving Orange and Caswell counties, spoke of the lack of diversity when the legislature votes on the list of candidates for the UNC system’s boards. He said on Thursday that outrage over UNC’s treatment of Hannah-Jones “really highlights the lack of diversity on the UNC board and it’s not just in Chapel Hill. It is throughout the public university system.
“People really see universities as belonging to the people, and they’re really disappointed at how partisan the nomination process has become and how that has led to a lack of diversity on these boards,” Meyer said.
Meyer criticized the changes Republicans made in 2016 to the process by which members are appointed to the BOG and to each university’s board of trustees. Each current member of the BOG and the UNC-CH board has been appointed under a Republican-dominated legislature.
“An opportunity to be heard”
Patel, director of Charlotte-based Sree Hotels, was unsure of when he was appointed to the board in the spring over the controversy over whether Hannah-Jones would get the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism in the spring. investigation at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.
Contacted while traveling to California for a family vacation, Patel said he was happy to hear that Hannah-Jones’ tenure file had been dealt with by the outgoing board of directors. But the outcry from students and professors made him wonder how the situation had evolved into a national news item.
Hannah-Jones is a black reporter at the New York Times and the first Knight Chair at UNC-CH was not automatically established. Her attorneys accused the directors of unfairly preventing Hannah-Jones from obtaining a warrant in part because she is known to have written on racial issues. She was the creator of the controversial Times 1619 Project.
Patel said his family knew something about discrimination. When they started in the hospitality industry in the 1980s, he said, the founders were told they didn’t belong to them and were denied loans and franchise opportunities.
As a new administrator and hospitality industry veteran, Patel said, “I consider students to be guests of the institution. How to make them happy, how to make them feel welcome and safe? What is our responsibility? How do we create this high level of experience and provide this level of service? “
Patel graduated from UNC and now has a son who is a rising junior there. He said he looks forward to hearing from his son, other students, faculty and staff about the school environment once school resumes in the fall.
“Once there, I will enjoy listening to groups of students and getting a sense of how they feel, and giving them the opportunity to be heard and not just to be listened to”, Patel said. “This need for support is universal. It shouldn’t be about color, it shouldn’t be about race. The college experience is the experience, and it should be of benefit to the entire student body. It must be inclusive.