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Insights and Observations

Henry's Highlights
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

By Henry Hinton

Cronyism fosters dysfunctional UNC System board

Board Member and ECU alum Phil Dixon says new study exposes biases of governing body

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7:00-9:00 a.m.

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Is it possible a new report just released from the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research will help East Carolina’s efforts to gain credibility and equity in the state university system?

Board of Governors member Phil Dixon says ECU has a lot to complain about and the report proves it.

The center, a Raleigh based think tank and state government watchdog group, has just released a 402-page report on the selection process and powers of the 32-member UNC Board of Governors which oversees all 16 constituent campuses in the system.

The report deals with many facets of the work of the Board of Governors.  For instance, it criticizes the board for allowing seven tuition increases in eight years, not having a comprehensive long range plan and lack of controls in athletics.

One major finding of the study validates what many from the ECU camp have been screaming for years, that the eastern part of the state does not have reasonable and fair representation.

The report states that in the 2003-04 school year that just six of the 32 board members reside east of Raleigh.  Most of the members historically come from the Piedmont area of the state.  According to the study, the legislature, which appoints the entire board, is not doing its homework when choosing people to serve.

Money seems to be the real driving force behind who gets appointed.  In a recent five-year period, candidates for appointment to the board gave political contributions totaling $425,720 to members of the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, a candidate is rarely questioned by any legislator on his or her views of higher education.

Dixon, who was appointed by the state senate two years ago, calls the process of trying to get appointed to the Board of Governors “demeaning.”

Responding to the new study in an interview on Talk 1070’s Talk of the Town program, the Greenville lawyer and former Chairman of the ECU Trustees, said getting someone with ECU connections appointed to the Board is nearly impossible.

“We were trying to get the (Greenville) mayor (Don Parrott) appointed from the House side,” Dixon said. “ There were already five people from Asheville and they appointed another person from Asheville as opposed to someone from down east…. that’s absurd.  When they formed the Board of Governors, three of them were supposed to be from East Carolina.”

Dixon says the current make up of the Board of Governors includes just four people from east of I-95.

“In recent years we really have been under-represented, considering we are a Doctoral II institution, have a top medical school and a Division 1 athletic program,” said Dixon.   “I think it is hard for them to overlook that.”

But they seem to do just that year after year.

The recommendation from the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research is that the Governor appoint three-fourths of the 32-member board while allowing the General Assembly the other one-fourth of the appointments.

The other interesting finding of the center’s study deals with lack of institutional and board control of athletics.  More accountability is needed in management of the 16 universities’ athletic departments, it says.

The report says the Board of Governors is not doing enough to hold chancellors accountable for:

  • student athlete graduation rates of at least 50 per cent.

  • inappropriate corporate sponsorships.

  • exceptions to campus policies for student athletes.

  • coaching contracts that violate the UNC system’s Administrative Code.

  • participation in athletic conferences that do not allow universities to establish game times and that do not encourage the development of minor leagues for the National Basketball Association and National Football League.

One embarrassing part of the report points out that since 1953 seven of the 16 schools in the system have been sanctioned for “major infractions” by the NCAA.

Elizabeth City State, Western Carolina and Winston-Salem State each have been sanctioned once.  ECU, NC Central and UNC-Chapel Hill each have been sanctioned twice, and N.C. State, with a total of five infractions, ranks 17th in the nation out of a total of 1,027 NCAA members on the all time list of schools with major infractions.

Dixon goes on to say that one of the important issues the report does not point out is the need for more equity in representation regarding athletic and economic issues.

“You know, we’re a system,” Dixon said.  “It seems to me we have a responsibility to help all the institutions in the system.  I think East Carolina has a lot to complain about.  When we were trying to get in the Big East we didn’t get any help from anybody.”

“It was a different story for Virginia Tech,” he says.  “It seems to me that the state of our economy means there is a responsibility to get involved.”

Copies of The North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research report on the Board of Governors can be obtained by visiting the organization's website at

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This page updated 04/21/08 07:03 PM.

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