THE RALEIGH REPORT
October 30, 2015
As a group, UNC supporters oppose the dramatic shift in direction taken by the UNC Board of Governors since 2012 when Republicans won the Governors' race and took full control of state government. The shift started in 2010 when Republican won a majority in the NC House and Senate and began appointing Republicans to the UNC Board of Governors. By 2012, they had a majority on the Board and forced the early retirement of President Tom Ross while praising him as an effective and dedicated leader. Based on my recent experience in the NC General Assembly, the Board's appointment of Margaret Spellings as the 6th President of our 17-campus system signals more changes and likely some dramatic changes.
I have certain concerns about Ms. Spellings' past work as a political operative and her lack of experience with multi-campus universities. But, I'm more wary of the current leaders in the General Assembly and the budget and policy decisions they might make to limit her independence. For example, the 2015-16 state budget directs the Board to consider specific issues when making this year's "management flexibility" cuts, including faculty workload adjustments, restructuring research activities and using alternative sources of money. This list reveals a grievous lack of sophistication about higher education. "Management flexibility" means the cuts will be made at the campus level based on specific campus criteria and not at the Board of Governors level based on ideology.
The reference to using alternative sources of money may have to do with the recurring calls to reallocate some of the research grant funds that cover indirect costs. This proposal is always rejected because the indirect costs – such as outfitting and maintaining a new lab - are essential for successful completion of the research. In addition, the funds are awarded for the faculty research project – not to the university for general fund use.
President-Appointee Spellings will need the strong administrative and communication skills she brings to this position. I hope her guiding light will be the single purpose of the University of North Carolina, established by its 1789 founders and supported through the generations: to rank among the best – for our children. The mission of UNC-Chapel Hill guides the entire system: "We embrace an unwavering commitment to excellence…to teach a diverse community…of students to become the next generation of leaders… to foster the success and prosperity of each rising generation."
I look forward to meeting her and building a strong collaborative working relationship based on mutual trust and respect.
By way of clarification, the current majority members in the NC House and Senate aren’t like the many Republicans who have been part of the economic and social transformation North Carolina has enjoyed over the past 50 years. C.D. Spangler had strong bi-partisan support for his leadership of the UNC system. Governor Jim Holshouser funded health clinics in rural areas lacking a physician and used a budget surplus to establish statewide kindergarten. Governor Jim Martin pushed for a tax increase for public schools and saw the completion of I-40 from Raleigh to Wilmington. Note: It was my pleasure to introduce Governor Martin at the ribbon cutting of the Harriet Morehead Berry Highway, the section of I-40 from Hillsborough through Chapel Hill. Many moderate and conservative Republican supported these initiatives. They still welcome dialog and opportunities to reach a decision everyone can support.
The far-right faction of the Republican Party doesn't compromise. Here in North Carolina, they have close to total control of all three branches of state government. As a result they can act – and are acting – swiftly to make unprecedented changes without the moderating influence of Democrats or even members of their own party. The relative inexperience of so many NC House and Senate member adds to the problem. First termers are appointed to major decision-making roles without having seen both success and failure at positions of less import. They make mistakes. We must restore the balance of power among right, left and center elected officials from both parties and elect members who believe a workable compromise can be found.
I hope it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone to learn I will soon be filing for re-election to the NC House. With so many major state programs stressed by repeated budget cuts, forced reorganizations and loss of historical perspective, my earned expertise across so many policy and budgetary issues is an asset. In the 2017-18 session, I will focus on protecting and promoting our UNC System and the Carolina campus, defending early childhood and K-12 education and expanding our community college offerings. I neither support nor accept the privatization of our highly regarded Medicaid program. I will work to retain and build our patient centered, public-private Medicaid partnership that is the envy of other states and I will work to make Medicaid expansion a reality. I will fight to keep our environment clean and healthy as state leaders from both parties have done for years. I will work with others to restore open access to the ballot box and overturn Citizens United. I look forward to seeing you somewhere on the campaign trail.
Correction: Last month, I argued the state could make better use of the state dollars now paying for the uninsured mentally ill by expanding Medicaid and drawing down two federal dollars for every one state dollar used as Medicaid match. Actually, if we were to expand Medicaid, the federal government would, through 2016, pick up 100% of the cost of services for the uninsured mentally ill up to 133% of the Federal Poverty Level. After that all the state dollars now used for these patients could be redirected to pay for needed services not covered by Medicaid.
As always, thank you for your support of my work in Raleigh as your representative. Please let me know of your position on issues, your suggestions for legislation and your requests for help.