Students need a better understanding of the UNC Board of Governors

When I attend UNC Board of Governors meetings as The Daily Tar Heel’s beat reporter, I am more often than not the only student in attendance.

Various student groups — including the N.C. Student Power Union and UNC Student Government — have lobbied in the past for a student voting member on the board. A new student group, the UNC BOG Democracy Coalition, formed on Thursday and aims to secure a bigger say for students in the decision-making process.

But before students can consider themselves qualified to make broad claims about how undemocratic the board is, they need to attend these meetings regularly and understand how the board truly works.

The desire to have a student voice with voting power on the board is understandable. There is one student who sits on the board — the president of the UNC Association of Student Governments — but he or she only remains on the board for one year, can’t speak in meetings unless spoken to and can’t vote on policy changes.

The Board of Governors is the impetus behind a lot of UNC-system policy that directly affects students. Recent examples include a system-wide ban on gender-neutral housing and a 15 percent cap on the amount of tuition revenue that a campus can use for need-based aid.

This major policy-making, however, is not all the board does. When I write about a board meeting for the DTH, I cherry pick the hot-button issues, like tuition, that students care about.

In between those glitzy, spirited debates about financial aid and SAT admissions requirements, the board discusses campuses’ capital improvement projects; net funding reductions; the different financial sources for the university system among federal funds, escheat funds, the N.C. General Fund and private funds; and the system’s audit reports.

Unlike student protests — with colorful signs flying high, a feeling of solidarity and a wealth of enthusiasm — it’s not glamorous stuff.

You could argue that these political appointees to the board, many of them business executives, have little to no higher education experience, even less than students do. But they do often have in-depth knowledge of the way appropriations, audits and policies work in a conglomerate like the UNC system.

Students in the midst of obtaining an undergraduate degree rarely, if ever, have this kind of expertise. It’s been clear during meetings this fall that ASG President Alex Parker is sometimes left behind in the whirl of discussions — and that’s a little-known fact among student activists.

One possible solution that would expand students’ role on the board could be a student forum as part of the Thursday or Friday board meeting, in which half a dozen board members address student concerns for an hour.

To the credit of the UNC BOG Democracy Coalition, a number of its members attended parts of last Friday’s board meeting, including an important working group discussion of a system-wide review of centers and institutes.

Still, students who want to assert that the board needs to be reformed should attend additional meetings and learn more about the board’s often tedious but important work — not just read the newspaper.


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