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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., March 13, 1998. Interview C-0328-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Conflicts over reorganizing the UNC system

Holshouser reflects on the reorganization of the UNC system. In 1971, legislators placed the UNC system schools under the governance of a single Board of Governors, but conflicts continued. As Holshouser remembers his involvement in the enduring fight over the university system, he recalls UNC system president William C. Friday's involvement in the conversations about reorganization and segregation.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., March 13, 1998. Interview C-0328-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK FLEER:
Another issue that you mentioned that was very important to you, and I wanted to explore a little bit, is the university governance procedure. Under Governor Scott a major battle had occurred. You were a member of the legislature at that time and you were very much involved in those deliberations. What was it about that that you had to do as Governor? Why was that a major concern of yours?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well I think I talked with you before a little bit about the fact that I thought we probably struck the best lick for the state in 1971 in putting together the new structure of the university, the best thing that happen while I was in the legislature. I still think my involvement in that was more important than anything I did as governor and I think it is one of the best things that has happen for the state in my life time. Mostly because I think higher education in North Carolina is what sets the state apart from a lot of sister states. I think we have just been fortunate not to say we are perfect. We have a good education system, public and private higher education, and probably have got a few too many of each. I am not going to take on that battle. I have reached the place where you have only got so many fights that you can fight and that is not one I am going to fight. I had, for a guy who was thinking about running for governor, I had put myself at risk a lot in '71 simply by plowing a path of what I believe was where we should end up and it came very close to perfect of where we did end up. And if I had written it from the start it wouldn't have ended up exactly where it did but very close. The things that were different were not material long term differences. I felt that not only had we done a good job for the future in terms of getting away from all of these institutional battles, but that we had a way of maximizing the use of the taxpayers' dollars by getting everything under one umbrella, that said this institution is going to do this and this other institution is going to be a different creature instead of trying to have everybody be shooting to be king of the world. And I did a speech to the combined Board of Governors and all the trustees up in Boone I think in the fall of '73. It sort of recites how I feel about that. And while the governor wasn't going to have a lot to do with what happened over there when it cranked up and I wasn't going to be meddling in Bill Friday's business. I told him that he could count on my support all the way through. The most current immediate challenge to that was the East Carolina Med School. I talked with him a lot about it and I told him that sort of standing out here in the parking lot between election day and inauguration day that in sometime along the way he needed to calculate whether this was going to be a losing battle or not and if it was it was probably one that shouldn't be fought simply because the new institution was so young that you didn't want it to be fatally injured right off the bat. It turned out that we fought the fight and lost, but it still didn't destroy the system. I fought as hard as I could. The morning before the key vote in the House committee I had all the Republicans to the mansion to breakfast. Got a commitment from all of those Jack Stevens could deliver to the Democrat side that they would stay to the person against it. The thing is that it turned out that Stevens couldn't get enough Democrats and ours turned loose and we probably lost a dozen or so, I can't remember exactly. But I have always thought that was and in retrospect it probably turned out for the best. Because even though it cost a lot of money and it might have been spent in some better ways, at the moment the East Carolina Medical School has turned out to be a real asset for the state. If a man can't admit some mistakes, he isn't much of a man. But we didn't know how well it was going to turn out at the time. It is nationally recognized for the family medicine program. Right now they have got a telemedicine program that is beaming in doctors' office all over the east where people can call in for consultations and specialization assistance. It is really working well.
JACK FLEER:
Did you feel at the end of your term, having in a sense lost that fight, that you had won the larger fight maintaining…?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Yes, lost the battle but won the war. By the time I left office I think it was in good standing and on solid ground. Still you are going to have some fights. The fight that came along unexpectedly for me, and I wasn't even aware of it when I was in office and signing papers about it, was the stuff that was going on with HEW about the segregation. Bill Friday would call and say they were having some more negotiations with HEW and I had to sign off on a new plan if I would. I would tell him to send it over but I didn't realize all the implications of it at the time. It was only after I got on the Board of Governors and on the committee here that was working on that that I realized just how prolonged the process had been and how much of the university's resources had been expended in that fight that would have been so much better spent in other ways.
JACK FLEER:
And do you think that threatened the governance system or was that undermining the quality of the program?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
I don't think it threatened the governance system. I think it threatened the ability of whatever governing body you have to act for higher education. Because you just couldn't let the federal government become the dictator for how you are going to run the university. I think Bill Friday was exactly right in fighting it. For a fellow who is by and large a liberal, he got a very bad name in some circles. He is not a racist certainly but one who was standing in the school house door and a lot of people thought for the wrong reason. I thought for the right reason. I shouldn't stop there because the things that the university implemented under his guidance in trying to meet the same kind of goals and desirable results that HEW wanted showed that he was going to do the right thing but he wanted us doing it instead of them telling us and making us do it.
JACK FLEER:
Which was an important difference?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Yes.