RALEIGH — The Republican-controlled legislature is about ready to send its first bill to new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper — a measure reducing the University of North Carolina Board of Governors 25 percent by 2019.
The Senate gave tentative approval Thursday to legislation decreasing the governing body’s membership from 32 voting members — the size since the 1971 legislation creating the board — to 24. The measure has already passed the House by a wide margin. A final Senate vote is expected early next week.
With no anticipated changes, the measure will go to Cooper’s desk, who will have 10 days to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature. Cooper hasn’t said publicly what he thinks about the legislation.
“As with all bills that pass the legislature, this legislation will undergo careful review,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in an email.
Bill sponsors contend it would promote effectiveness and efficiency on the board, which oversees policies for the system’s 17 campuses. The members are elected by the House and Senate in odd-numbered years. The bill would simply reduce the number of positions the chambers fill in those years from 16 to 12.
“I have never said that they were inefficient,” said Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, the bill’s manager in the Senate. But he said individual board members may feel “they may not be as involved or as engaged as they can be” with the board’s current size.
Seats on the board are among the most sought-after positions in state government. Most of those elected by lawmakers are aligned with the political party in charge of a chamber.
Although the board has taken no formal position on the bill, UNC system President Margaret Spellings has suggested publicly a 32-member board is unwieldy, especially when combined with separate trustee boards and chancellors at each campus.
“It’s hard to know where the buck stops,” Spellings told The Associated Press in an interview last month.
While the bill has received bipartisan support, including a 41-4 vote Thursday, some Democrats are concerned racial, gender and geographic diversity could suffer with fewer overall spots. Currently there are six women on the board and four black members.
In a nearly party-line vote, senators rejected an amendment by Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, that would have dramatically altered the board’s makeup.
All 24 would have been appointed rather than elected, with eight picks each going to Cooper, the Senate leader and House speaker. In each set of eight, there would have been spots for a graduate of one of five historically black system schools, a graduate of 10 other non-research campuses, someone from a rural area and people from the major political party opposite the appointing leader.
“It is important that our board of governors be diverse,” Chauduri said, adding his proposal would help the board “better reflect the change of demographics in the state.”
State law used to have set asides for women and minorities and for members of a specified political party.
In 2001 the Democratic-controlled legislature deleted those quotas after a lawsuit was filed alleging the quotas were unconstitutional.
The quotas were replaced by language saying selections to the board should be based in part on “their knowledge and understanding of the educational needs and desires of all the state’s citizens, and their economic, geographic, political, racial, gender and ethnic diversity.”