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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, February 11, 1998. Interview C-0336-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A university restructuring becomes entangled in politics

Scott describes the difficulty posed by the restructuring of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The process became so entangled in politics, Scott thinks, that the educational value of the restructuring entirely eroded.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, February 11, 1998. Interview C-0336-2. 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:
Could you take one of those issues that you thought were important and give me some insight into how you went about developing a policy and securing support for the policy in the legislature? Say, the tobacco tax, or the university restructuring? I know those are two very big and somewhat contentious issues that you dealt with.
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
I don't know. I think the policy was determined before it ever went to the legislature. That is to say, I didn't talk to legislative leadership and say, "I'm thinking about doing this", for the most part, I didn't. I guess that was not true, though, with the restructuring of the university system, because I knew that would take legislative action and a constitutional amendment. So I think we talked—it wasn't so much about whether to do it or not, as how best to do it.
JACK FLEER:
Now, is this the restructuring of the university, or the restructuring of the executive branch of government?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
The restructuring of the university. I don't think that would ever have happened, I don't think I would ever have been able to get that accomplished, except that these friends at the university who opposed that—at the University of Chapel Hill, who opposed that—they didn't think it could be done. They in their wildest dreams didn't think it could happen. And so they didn't get stirred up about it until they saw it was about to happen, and it was—I wouldn't say it was too late, but it certainly was helpful to me, because they didn't engage in the battle earlier on, to a great extent. Now, I'm not really sure how to answer that question.
JACK FLEER:
Well, for example, on the university restructuring, there were a number of different options that were considered, and you had, if I recall correctly, a sort of study commission headed by Lindsay Warren, who came forth with a proposal. I assume the selection of that study commission was an important part of the process of trying to, not only develop a proposal, but develop support for the proposal. Is that fair?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Well, yes. I was hoping, of course, to find a way to bring sort of a consensus on what this new structure needed to look like, and trying to get—through my public appearances and speeches, I talked about the need to do it. And then of course, getting the public's attention, and in effect saying, "Well, yeah, it looks like there ought to be a better way of doing what we're doing now." And then the legislators picked that up from the public, and they want to respond to that on the part of the public, so they're interested enough to talk about it, willing to talk about it, and the question is, how? And my original thought was that, in the perfect world, and on that issue, I would have patterned it pretty much after the University of Georgia's Board of Regents, which was a small compact group. Well, as the political process began, it was quickly apparent that that wasn't going to work, because we had too many vested interests out there, at the second-tier institutions, like athletics at Pembroke and others, that they wanted to be sure they were represented on any kind of governing board. Well, to get the vote of the minority party, you had to guarantee—back in those days, there was a lot of guaranteeing seats, Republicans, minorities, women, that kind of thing. And I was trying to get the state Board of Higher Education and the university people, the greater university people, to find some common ground. Lindsay Warren was a highly respected individual in the General Assembly, a man that I always thought would have made a great governor, and he was in the state Senate. And so, you know, one of the ways you do things, if you don't know what to do, is appoint a study commission. That's why that came. And we tried to put people on there that had the respect of the various interest groups concerned, the universities held them in high respect and the members of the legislature held them in high respect. And they had Senator Kirby of Wilson, also, he was chair of the Senate higher education committee at the time. He was a proponent of doing something to restructure the university system. He also had a lot of respect among the legislators, as well as outside. So I was hoping that whatever this group came up with, if it was something I could live with, then it would be a package to be considered. In that sense, yeah, I knew that I couldn't just make a frontal assault on the legislature. Although it got down to that, at the end. At the end, in the final days of that, the educational merits of the issue were just long gone, it was purely political, who's going to win.
JACK FLEER:
As I recall, some of these discussions occurred in the regular session of the legislature, but then you and the legislators agreed to wait for a special session later in the summer, or early fall, probably October. Was that because you didn't have the support at the time, or was it just too much for the legislature to deal with in the regular—?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Some of both. It was a lot to deal with. But part of it was a delaying tactic. The opponents did not want to have a special session, they simply wanted to put it off till the next regular session. And I would have been out of office, and I knew that nothing would happen [unclear] , nothing would happen if they delayed it until I went out of office. So when we didn't have the votes to deal with it then, the legislature, we all knew it was going to be an emotional issue, long-drawn-out, and they didn't want to take it on right then. And this was a compromise worked out with the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the house, that we would call a special session. Now, in between times, of course, I kept lobbying for it, and when we did have the special session, we had meetings of key legislators over at the mansion, you know. There was one late-night thing that went on until after midnight. Bill Friday was there, and [unclear] And I couldn't get the lieutenant governor, Pat Taylor—he was caught between a rock and a hard place. He was a graduate of Chapel Hill law school, really had a tremendous number of friends putting awful pressure on him to not go forward with this. And I never could get him to make up his mind or to agree to go with it until right at the last, and he finally did, but I understood his position. He was trying to—because he was thinking about running for governor. And he did run for governor. So it was an issue that there was no way I could help.