Wednesday, November 24, 2021

House Ignores Plea for Diversity, OKs Slimmed-Down UNC Board

— The state House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to reduce the size of the University of North Carolina system Board of Governors after beating back an effort to include a line ensuring diversity on the smaller board into the legislation.

Under House Bill 39, the Board of Governors will shrink from 32 to 24 members within three years, with 12 people appointed this year and another 12 in 2019.

“This bill in no way shortens anyone’s term. It doesn’t remove anyone from the board,” said sponsor Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett.

The move would simply make the Board of Governors more efficient at overseeing the 16-campus UNC system, Lewis said.

Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, said he agrees with the idea of a smaller board, noting that many of t he people who have been on the Board of Governors “are there just to say they’re on the board.”

But Michaux said he worries that diversity that was built into the board when the UNC system was created in the 1970s could disappear unless state law requires it remain.

“If you knock off eight people from that board,” he said, “I’m afraid that diversity that you see on that board now will be diminished to a point where there’s no diversity there.”

The current 32-member board includes eight women and four black members but no Native Americans, he said. Five of the schools in the UNC system are historically black colleges, and another was created to serve Native Americans.

Michaux called for naming people to the Board of Governors “in proportion to the historic diversity of the constituent institutions.”

Lewis criticized the idea as being too vague and said it could devolve into a quota system. He said he would work to ensure diversity in board nominees, but Michaux noted that neither he nor Lewis will be in the House forever to continue to carry out that pledge.

Rep. Charles Graham, D-Robeson, the only Native American in the House, said not writing diversity into the bill “sends the wrong message” and is a “disservice to the institution.”

Michaux’s amendment was defeated 45-66 before the House voted 108-4 to approve the bill. It now goes to the Senate.

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