Editorial: UNC Board appears set on reversing historic gains

Editorial: UNC Board appears set  on reversing  historic gains
March 19
00:00 2015

The Republican-controlled UNC Board of Governors appears to be going full-throttle to find ways to dismantle the University of North Carolina system as we know it. A board member told that the board is moving to “right-size” the 17-campus UNC system. This means possibly closing the five historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in North Carolina.

The state’s HBCUs – Winston-Salem State University, Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina A&T State University and North Carolina Central University – have been a part of North Carolina for more than a century.

First, there was the University of North Carolina, which was chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1789. In 1877, the General Assembly began adding institutions of higher education, diverse in origin and purpose. The five historically black institutions were added, and another was founded to educate Native Americans. Several were created to prepare teachers for the public schools. Others had a technological emphasis. One is a training school for performing artists. Other schools were added in 1931 and 1971. The last school was added in 1985.

WSSU was founded by Dr. Simon Green Atkins  as Slater Industrial Academy. To see that the school has developed into Winston-Salem State University, a four-year institution, says volumes about how HBCUs have evolved. With so much history and successes behind them, HBCUs should be touted.

However, the UNC Board of Governors is targeting the HBCUs, which seem to be easy targets. What is the Board’s thinking? That North Carolina doesn’t need smaller schools that cater to specific populations? Does the board want North Carolina to return to the 19th century?

North Carolina is known for its wide array of educational opportunities for students and expertise opportunities for professors and staff members. North Carolina is known for its HBCUs, which have graduated minority and non-minority students who have gone on to be outstanding, productive citizens. The list of those students could go on and on. What would have happened if the colleges had not been there to educate them?

UNC Board of Governor member Harry Smith Jr., who is chairman of the UNC Board’s budget and finance committee, told that “You’ve got to have a conversation about HBCUs. And how many you need, we’ve got five,” which is more public HBCUs than any other state. He seems to think the UNC system is too big.

Although Smith said the Board will look at the entire system for inefficiencies, he seems to think it will be easy to target the HBCUs because of the number there are in North Carolina. How many should there be? Then again, why are there any state-supported schools of higher education? Why do we even need a UNC Board of Governors? Why do we need 32 members?

The North Carolina Senate and House will be voting soon on which 16 citizens will be appointed to the Board because 16 of the 32 positions are up for renewal this year.

Why can’t the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly change the number of members on the board, like members are changing the number of members of several cities’ lawmaking bodies? If lawmakers can change Greensboro’s lawmaking body, for instance, why can’t they change the Board of Governors? The Board of Governors seems rather large.

The line of thinking supported by the UNC Board of Governors is terribly flawed. The rich history of higher education in North Carolina is threatened. The Board appears headed toward arbitrarily deciding what is best for North Carolina’s higher education system. That’s not how the system was built.

If the Board continues on this path, the history of the higher education system in North Carolina will read more like a tragedy than a drama with a happy ending.

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