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Gov. Cooper takes aim at UNC System governance; Creates commission on public colleges

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper poses for a portrait at the Governor's mansion on Wed., Aug. 17, 2022. Cooper has been very vocal and public with his efforts to elect Democrats in this year’s mid-term elections. This follows the intensification in importance of state legislative races that occurred when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, and placed more emphasis on how state’s approach that issue, and its impact on the daily lives of residents.
Kate Medley
for WUNC
File photo of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper posing for a portrait at the Governor's mansion on Wed., Aug. 17, 2022.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that he is creating a bi-partisan commission to consider how appointments are made to the state’s higher education boards.

Cooper made the announcement Tuesday morning from the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh, flanked by two former UNC System presidents who will co-chair the Commission on the Future of Public Universities in North Carolina. Margaret Spellings is a Republican who served as president from 2016 to 2019, and Tom Ross is a Democrat who led the system from 2011 to 2016.

Ross said he has “profound” respect for Spellings and is eager to work with the commission.

And while the commission will be bipartisan, it will have no power to make any changes, as that power rests solely with the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Cooper cited a lack of diversity on the UNC Board of Governors as one reason the advisory commission is necessary.

“The purpose of this commission is to preserve the undisputed excellence of our higher education system to advise on how we adjust a university governance system to ensure diversity of race, geography, gender and political thought,” he said.

Cooper also called the UNC System a “treasure” and said it is the “envy of the nation.”

Currently, the 24-member Board of Governors includes just six women and four people of color.

When asked about timing, Cooper said he would like the commission to send any recommendations to the General Assembly within the next eight months, while members are still in session.

“You’d have to be naïve to think the purpose of this ‘commission’ is to do anything other than recommend the Governor obtain partisan appointments to university boards,” said Phil Berger, the Republican President Pro Tem of the Senate, in a statement. “Governor Cooper rightly describes the UNC System as ‘the state’s crown jewel.’ Our state’s constitution wisely places full responsibility for maintaining our ‘public system of higher education’ in the General Assembly. Gov. Cooper’s latest autocratic attempt to enlarge his power and expand executive control is disappointing, but unsurprising considering his relentless assault on the separation of powers.”

WUNC’s Jeff Tiberii and Mitchell Northam contributed to this report.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Politics and Education. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.