UNC board member raises concern about pressure from legislature

UNC Board of Governors meet Friday in Chapel Hill. WNCN)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A member of the UNC Board of Governors raised concerns about unwanted overtures from the General Assembly on Friday as the governing body of the University of North Carolina system met to discuss a variety of issues.

Board member Joe Knott expressed concern about the questions from the General Assembly. Knott even said, “One of our legislators gave our chairman instructions as to who the next president should be.”

Knott said, “When we have other people coming in with power saying, ‘This is the person who I think you ought to pick’ and making it with extreme force, that’s improper.”

Knott, a Raleigh attorney, said the board needs to have “insulation from political control.”

Joe Knott of UNC Board of Governors
Joe Knott of UNC Board of Governors

“I fear that this intrusion, what I view to be an intrusion by the legislature, is a dangerous precedent,” he said.

Knott was referring to former board chair John Fennebresque of Charlotte, who has resigned.

“Fennebresque was very courageous in refusing that overture,” Knott said.

But board member Marty Kotis said the board was not pressured to make a decision on a candidate.

“Mr. Knott’s comments are completely false,” Kotis said. “There’s no truth to that at all.”

Knott would not say who he believed had pressured Fennebresque. Fennebresque could not be reached for comment.

The board met Friday to address questions arose on how it handled pay increases for chancellors in the system. The board faced questions from Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.

Asked for comment on Knott’s allegations, a spokeswoman for Berger referred questions to Moore’s office, since Knott was appointed by the House. Moore’s office had not commented by Friday evening.

The raises for 12 of the 17 chancellors were approved in a closed-door meeting. Consultants had told the board the chancellors were underpaid.

RELATED: UNC board to meet after secret vote on chancellor salaries

The demand from state legislative leaders comes ahead of a meeting Wednesday reviewing the board’s recent actions. Interim chair Lou Bissette said it would be a good idea for the board to get a briefing on the Open Meetings Law at the board’s December meeting.

Bissette also said the board will look at whether it should have discussed the matter in private but then voted in public.

Board member David Powers defended the board’s action in closed session to raise chancellor salaries.

“I’m not ashamed at all of the robust debate we had on chancellor salaries in closed session,” Powers said. “We’re doing our jobs.”

But board member Marty Kotis said, “The lack of sunshine is due to a small group of people controlling what’s going on.”

The board ultimately voted unanimously to give information to the General Assembly, and the information was scheduled to be delivered Friday.

Before the hiring of new president Margaret Spellings, many board members complained that they were kept out of the process. Fennebresque resigned from the board immediately after her hiring.

Some faculty members have complained about the raises for chancellors when they say their pay has been stagnant for years.

RELATED: Big raises for NC chancellors concern some

University faculty and other employees received a $750 bonus but no raises this year.

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UNC system faculty members urge officials to reject pay raises for chancellors
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