(Paul Chesser, Liberty Headlines) With the introduction of legislation in the North Carolina House of Representatives that would intensify scrutiny upon the chancellors at UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University with regard to their involvement in sports leagues, the head of an open government advocacy group says nothing prevents those universities’ leaders from disclosing the nature of their activities.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson – both well-compensated by state taxpayers – refused to tell the public how they voted as members of the Atlantic Coast Conference Council of Presidents, when the league decided in September to remove sports championships from North Carolina because of House Bill 2 (the “transgender bathroom bill”). Both leaders are adhering to what an NC State official said was a promise of vote confidentiality with the other council members, even though Duke University President Richard Brodhead told the media he voted in favor of the ACC decision.
But the executive director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition — which counts nearly every NC media company and both conservative and liberal organizations among its membership – said both Folt and Woodson should act in the interest of public disclosure.
“Even if they are not obligated to disclose how they voted, it doesn’t mean they can’t,” said Jonathan Jones, an Elon University communications professor who leads the Coalition. “I would encourage both chancellors to make their decisions public.
“A transparent government is a good government,” Jones added, “and letting citizens know what stance they took on an important matter of statewide discussion will help citizens form an opinion about whether the chancellors are doing their jobs in a way that is consistent with the public’s expectations.”
The ACC Council of Presidents – including Folt and Woodson – met again in New York last week, but whether the fate of future sports championships in North Carolina was discussed was not announced. ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in January that the Council would decide on next year’s games and tournaments some time this spring.
Other North Carolina public interest groups – one with an intense interest in higher education accountability, and another that strongly supported House Bill 2 as a public safety measure against men’s legal presence in women’s restrooms and locker rooms – also expressed the need for transparency at the state’s public universities:
“As chancellors of UNC institutions, Carol Folt and Randy Woodson have a responsibility to the people of North Carolina to support the state,” said Jenna Ashley Robinson, president of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. “They should refuse to take part in any vote that isn’t public and transparent.”
“Chancellors Folt and Woodson are public servants whose six-figure salaries are paid by the taxpayers, and those taxpayers deserve to know how the Chancellors vote on any resolutions the ACC considers concerning moving athletic games out of the state,” said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition. “Our public university presidents should be supporting the State and its privacy law, instead of participating in economic boycotts and bullying by the ACC.”
Meanwhile the North Carolina legislation introduced Monday – called the Athletic Associations Accountability Act (NC House Bill 328) – has gained some traction among state House members. The number of sponsors has swelled from four to 17 Representatives. Besides a requirement for the state universities’ chancellors to keep their activities visible to the public, the bill also calls for legislative leaders to request an IRS investigation into the NCAA and ACC with regard to their political advocacy – particularly on House Bill 2 – and whether it violates their tax-exempt status.
“This is not a question about how you feel about men in the ladies room,” said NC Rep. Larry Yarborough, a Republican who added his name as a bill co-sponsor, to WBTV in Charlotte. “It is a question of whether the taxpayers of North Carolina should be paying for an organization that is attempting to hurt North Carolinians because it disagrees with half of them.”
The NCAA denied it meddled in Tar Heel politics.
“The NCAA has not lobbied North Carolina lawmakers,” NCAA officials said in a statement Tuesday, reported by WBTV. “All conversations that we’ve had with representatives in the state have been designed to provide information about our championships process and timeline, not take positions on legislation.”
Yarborough – who as a member of the NC House Republican Caucus has been kept apprised of the threats by the NCAA and ACC about removing future sports events unless House Bill 2 is repealed – found that claim unconvincing. Worried Republicans, led by Rep. Chuck McGrady, have crafted a compromise that so far has not convinced either the strong proponents, or opponents, of House Bill 2 to support it.
“The NCAA has told the North Carolina Sports Association that they will remove all 133 North Carolina bids from consideration if the McGrady compromise on [House Bill 2] is not passed,” Yarborough told WBTV. “This is clearly an attempt to influence legislation. Whether it is ‘substantial’ is up to the IRS.”