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NC moves to change community college governance

Bay de Noc Community College in Escanaba is searching for a new president. The chosen candidate, from among four finalists, will assume responsibility for the college on July 1, following the retirement of the current president, Dr. Laura Coleman. The selection of a new president is a perfectly ordinary function of the Board of Trustees of pretty much any community college. If North Carolina lawmakers have their way, presidents of that state’s community colleges will become political appointees, as will each institution’s Board of Trustees.

A budget bill that passed the North Carolina House of Representatives included an amendment that would fundamentally change the way the state governs its 58 community colleges. The North Carolina Senate, which is in recess this week, will consider a companion bill, SB62, when it returns.

North Carolina exercises relatively tight centralized control over its community colleges. Currently, the State Board of Community Colleges has the authority to select a systemwide president. Under the proposed legislation, the State Board of Community Colleges would still select a systemwide president, but the board’s choice would be subject to legislative approval.

The Trustees of community colleges throughout the state would still select a campus president, but their choice would need to be approved by the state’s community college system president. Currently, the State Board of Community Colleges approves the selection of a campus president without input from the System president.

Under the bill, the system president would have the authority to remove campus-level presidents for breach of contract. The system president would also gain the ability to recommend the removal of local trustees. According to State Senator Todd Johnson, one of the bill’s sponsors, the moves would allow the State Board to focus on policy, while the System President focuses on operational decisions.

Community college governance is on the line

Currently, the NC Senate, House and Governor all have appointment powers to the State Board of Community Colleges. Under the new legislation, the North Carolina legislature would have the sole responsibility for appointing members to the State Board of Community Colleges.

Additionally, the measure would create a uniform governance structure for all local community colleges. Under the new proposal, all North Carolina community colleges would have 12 members consisting of four Senate appointees, four House appointees and four appointees made by county commissions.

The bill, which has already passed in the North Carolina House, may receive enough support to pass in the Senate. It would further politicize higher education and would have a chilling effect on academic freedom.

This is one measure in one state designed to reshape the future of community colleges. Tomorrow, I will look at the outcomes-based funding strategy for community colleges that has taken a substantial step toward adoption in Texas.

Photo Credit: Eric Spiegel, via Flickr