Evolving power structure of the Board of Trustees
Friday describes the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees. Focusing primarily on his relationship with the Board during his first fifteen years as the president of University of North Carolina, Friday argues that the Board had a unique basis of power. In describing the nature of that political power, he focuses on interactions between the Board and the General Assembly. According to Friday, the power of the Board was increasingly jeopardized as it became more politicized.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, November 19, 1990. Interview L-0144. 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
- WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
But the Board of Trustee's of the University, at that time,
was in, for my perception, easily, the most cherished public service
appointment, anybody could have in North Carolina. Men and women worked
hard to be elected that Board. A mark of great distinction in the State.
It had, in its membership, what you would really
call the leadership of the State. All former living
Governor's were members. The day that I went there, the first
time, as an Officer of the University, I looked out in the audience,
there was the Head of every major banking system, the Head of every
major corporation in the State. The political leadership of the State.
The agriculture leadership of the State. And some very strong women. As
a power base, nothing equaled it. In the sense of getting things done.
It had grown up out, of the constitutional arrangement, that there would
be 100 members of that Board. It was not, at that time, so politicized
that it showed. Oh sure, people swapped off, and did this and that. The
General Assembly would always wait until the very last of the session,
before they ever elected these people, because they kept it as a point
of negotiation. The Governor of the State was the Chairman. By action of
the Board. And it carried that kind of prestige. And that kind of role
playing. And I served in that relationship from 1957 to 1972. And we did
some great things in those times. But like everything else in society,
change had to come upon it. And then we had that very stressful session,
where the Board of Higher Education had to be absorbed into the
University. And then that had to be absorbed into a new structure. And I
never will forget when that special session of the Legislature came, and
later Congressman Ike Andrews, who was then a member of the Board @
well, he was in the General Assembly at the time, rose to his feet, on
the pivotal Saturday session, and made an impassion speech about the
Institution, the Board, the reason for its remaining its integrity. And
he prevailed. I think he collapsed physically afterwards, because he was
so exhausted for what he had done. But he deserves a lot of credit,
personally. For the structure the State had, but more importantly, the
program that had emerged out of there. The good aspect of it. It
doesn't occupy that role today. It's, of course, a
much smaller Board. It's, in my view, a highly politicized
Board, now. Which is regrettable. And it just doesn't reflect
the leadership of the State the way it did to start. Maybe it
shouldn't. I don't know. But I know that things
happened in North Carolina, in those days, and everybody was working
toward: What can we do to make the State better? Stronger? More
aggressive? And so on. I don't get that feeling today. I
don't have that sense of power and momentum. And maybe
that's just old age, or whatever. And I'm not @ I
say that with some concern, not in any sense of wanting
toߞwishing I had stayed in there. I was there too long as it
was. But it still though the premiere agency for the State of North
Carolina to ride itself, and to move forward. Nothing equals the
capacity, and therefore the ability the University to deal with social
issues in this State. And give the State a course of action to follow.
And that was certainly what Edward Kelly Graham meant, back then in
1919ߞ1915 when he said that, "the
University's boundaries are coeternimous with the boundaries
of the state." And, that is, the boundaries of the campus.
Frank Graham did that. He followed that philosophy. Certainly Gordon
Gray tried to. And I certainly did. The '72 decision, though,
did something to that mechanism. It was inevitable. And it took some of
the drive out of it, regrettably. Maybe it was necessary to stop the
warring factions. There was so much of politicalization, at that time,
with Dr. Jenkins. And what he was doing. The divisiveness of the whole
business was beginning to loom large. And I'm sure there was
no alternative but to do what was done. Once it was done I set out to
try to preserve all that we'd done the previous sixteen
years. And in the sense of not building a big bureaucracy. And once when
we took over all of the institutions, and if you compared that office
with the presidency of the University of California, or any of these
other systems, we were one-fifth the size. Because I never conceived
that the president's office as an operational base. I looked
upon it as a leadership role. A public role. An interpreter role. A
planning role. Allocating functions kind of role. But the only thing we
operated at all was the Public Television System.
And that was of necessity.
- WILLIAM LINK:
Was the Executive Committee, I guess, did ߞ
- WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
It was the all-powerful body. It ran things. Because it had to. There
was no way you could function with a hundred members, except as
advocates, interpreters, people who stood by the Institution when the
issues were drawn. People have looked in horror at me when I was telling
them I had a hundred trustees. But I have said,
"That's the best insulation I saw a president
have." Because nobody ran over the place. No one. No Governor.
Nor anyone. Because they just wouldn't tolerate it. As long
as the motivation was pure, and high, and simple, that works very well.
And it worked that way.