The Corner

Education

The Chairman Speaks

The chairman I refer to is Harry Smith, the new chairman of the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina system. Smith is a successful businessman, not an “insider” crony who would be inclined to just let things drift along, covering up problems with chirpy press releases.

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins interviews Smith. He told her,

We’re going to quantify the actual performance in key and critical areas at all of our institutions and then bench mark them against 20 years of history so that we can develop trend lines. What we’re looking for there is opportunities for us to implement policy that would solve a particular problem at a school. Or, to be proactive at a school that may be facing challenges instead of being reactive. A great example of that is: how did we let Elizabeth City get bankrupt over 20 years? All of the indicators were there; we just didn’t map it out.

Elizabeth City is a small, historically black school in eastern North Carolina. It attracts students with very low SAT scores, most of whom don’t graduate. The facilities are in poor condition. Alas, whether closing down this institution is an option to consider is not disclosed.

Getting data and developing trend lines sounds nice, but we are left wondering what action might follow when the data show trouble.

Watkins asks questions about several current issues, including the problem of administrative bloat. She notes that at some schools, administrators outnumber the faculty and wants to know how the Board is going to address that. Perhaps she thought Smith would say something concrete, but he changed the subject to the faculty itself:

The heartbeat of this whole thing is the faculty: we’re here to teach. When I look at what makes the UNC system great, I think it’s the faculty and staff. We should never forget, with all due respect to the administration, nothing happens if we can’t teach students.

Maybe the Board will eventually move to downsize the overgrown administration at the UNC schools, but Smith didn’t want to say so.

Boards of Governors are usually unmanageable beasts, and with 28 members, UNC’s is particularly so. I certainly hope that Mr. Smith will be able to get the Board to modestly lower the cost of UNC education and raise its effectiveness, but I’m not holding my breath.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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