By PAUL FULTON
Our universities have set this state apart. If we don’t pay attention to our universities’ future, then we’re not paying attention to our state’s future. They are one and the same.
Today, our universities tell a complicated story with world-class highs, but also headline-dominating lows.
In recent years, the turmoil has risen sharply. The UNC System has seen its reputation tarnished. Good leaders have left and campuses have been upended and distracted from Cullowhee to Greenville to Chapel Hill.
But as we were reminded by our new UNC Board of Governors chairman in November, and as last month’s strategic plan update starkly shows, good – even transformative – work continues.
Across the UNC System, enrollments are at record highs and our system-wide graduation rate has soared to nearly eight points above the national average. But much of that progress is happening because of good work and good people at the campus level.
That leaves us with a central question: How can the UNC System provide stability and leadership that empower, not distract, leaders at the campus level? Put differently, how can we improve the UNC System’s governance?
Today, Higher Ed Works is launching a series to begin that discussion. Over the next month, we will feature state and national leaders as they discuss the UNC System’s governance challenges.
There’s no one answer, no silver bullet. Ultimately, the question of reform is one for the General Assembly to decide. But increasingly, leaders across the state agree that the time for action is now.
This state is at its best when it slowly builds consensus by bringing together leaders from both parties and every corner of the state to talk about the issues that matter. Governance reform is one of those issues.
Starting today, we will publish pieces from thinkers and leaders from every sector, including:
- Two former North Carolina Governors, one a Democrat and one a Republican;
- A sitting U.S. Senator;
- Former Presidents and Chancellors from the UNC System;
- Business leaders from across the state; and
- Education leaders from across the state and nation.
This week will start at the foundation, including a history of the UNC System’s governance and a look at peer systems and best practices. Next week, statewide and national leaders will begin to weigh in with their own thoughts.
This is a debate with enormous consequences for our state: Are there structural changes that will make our universities run better? Can we sit down together and decide which changes are right for North Carolina?
We invite you to share your own thoughts and comments below. You can also send us an email at [email protected].
As a state, we must decide if we are willing to make changes to keep our institutions strong, healthy, and growing, for the sake of our state and its future.
Paul Fulton of Winston-Salem is Co-Chair of Higher Ed Works. He is a former President of Sara Lee Corp., former Dean of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, a former member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and a former member of the UNC System Board of Governors.