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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, November 19, 1990. Interview L-0144. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

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.

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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.
Was the Executive Committee, I guess, did ߞ
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.