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North Carolina editorial roundup

January 30, 2019

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Jan. 27

Winston-Salem Journal on the Republican candidate in the nation’s last undecided congressional election:

A judge rightly said no last week to Mark Harris being declared the winner in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. The nerve of Harris even to ask.

Harris, a former megachurch pastor, had petitioned a judge last week to be seated in a race whose results have been seriously questioned.

Rather than wait for an investigation of alleged tampering with absentee ballots to play out, the Charlotte Republican wanted to be seated anyway — now — regardless of the toxic cloud that hangs over the still-unsettled election, in which he leads Democrat Dan McCready by a scant 905 votes.

The case has been complicated by an earlier court decision that disbanded the State Board of Elections in the midst of the ballot fraud investigation. A new elections board won’t be appointed until Thursday.

Judge Paul Ridgeway of Wake County Superior Court asked why Harris couldn’t simply wait nine days for the new elections board to pick up where the old one left off.

“This is an extremely unusual situation, with no board in place, and asking this court to step in and exert extraordinary power in declaring the winner of an election, when that is clearly the purview of another branch of government,” Ridgeway said during the hearing. The new elections board “will be in the best position to weigh the factual and legal issues” and determine the winner, the judge said.

This isn’t to say that Harris won’t eventually emerge as the winner. But at least the results would be more credible. As of now, they are anything but.

A subcontractor who worked for Harris may have altered or discarded mail-in ballots that could have changed the outcome. More than a dozen witnesses have signed sworn affidavits alleging that Leslie Dowless or his surrogates collected unsealed and incomplete ballots from voters. So bothered was the bipartisan state Board of Elections that it refused to certify the results.

It is true that the impasse in the 9th, for now, leaves 750,000 residents of that district with no representation in Congress. That’s an unfortunate consequence. But as some voters around here well know, it is not unprecedented.

When Democrat Mel Watt resigned his congressional seat in the 12th District in January 2014 to become director of the National Housing Finance Agency, then-Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, chose to hold off on the special election to replace Watt until that November. So the 12th District, which until 2016 included parts of Greensboro, was left without representation in Washington for nearly a year — until Democrat Alma Adams, then a Greensboro resident, won the seat.

Here’s hoping that we don’t see that situation replayed in 2018. But getting this election right is more important.

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Online: https://www.journalnow.com/

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Jan. 28

The News & Observer of Raleigh on the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors:

Those upset with how the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors is running the 17-campus system have been circulating a year-old magazine profile of Chairman Harry Smith. The profile, written by Jim Pomeranz and published last January in Business North Carolina, was headlined “Mr. Smith goes to Chapel Hill.”

But unlike the original Mr. Smith, who went to Washington, Harry Smith didn’t quite know where he was going to serve. The profile opens with this anecdote:

“Back in 2012, Greenville filter-company executive Harry Smith got a call from the state’s most powerful lawmaker asking about his interest in serving on one of the state’s most prominent boards. ‘When I was called by Phil Berger at first about the (University of North Carolina) Board of Governors, I didn’t even know what the Board of Governors was,’ Smith says. “Who?” I asked. “You know, they manage the University of North Carolina System,” I was told. I said, “No, I’m not interested in that.” But after several subsequent phone calls, I signed up.’”

That anecdote encapsulates far more than the start of Smith’s board tenure. It also tells the story of how the board has been detoured down a rocky political track and underscores why the University of North Carolina is now facing a crisis of leadership.

Smith, an East Carolina University graduate, did not know much about the overall system’s governance, but Berger knew just enough about Smith. He was a very successful businessman and a major contributor to Republicans. Those two qualities are what matter most as the legislature’s Republican leadership has stocked the 28-member board with hard-driving conservatives on a mission to “fix” rather than protect and advance the state’s greatest asset.

Now, they’ve fixed it till they broke it. They fired the respected former UNC President Tom Ross for the offense of being a Democrat. Then they drove off UNC President Margaret Spellings and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt by micromanaging and publicly criticizing their work. The board has alienated many faculty by closing academic centers seen as too liberal. Most prominently, it has made a mess of the Silent Sam controversy.

After the stormy exits of Ross, the former president of Davidson College, Spellings, a former U.S. Secretary of Education, and Folt, a former acting president of Dartmouth, there’s rising concern that the university will not be able to attract top-quality candidates to serve as president and chancellors.

But the root of the problem isn’t individuals — whether they be embattled academic administrators or meddling Republican boosters. The problem now exposed is with the design of the university’s governance. Twenty eight board members is a caucus, not a board. And North Carolina is one of only a few states in which all members of the higher education governing body are appointed by the legislature.

What’s needed is a smaller board with members appointed by the governor as well as the legislature. There should be requirements for a bipartisan and demographic mix among members.

It’s unlikely that the legislature’s Republican leadership will agree to any changes, but a new governance design should be a top issue for Democrats in 2020. In the meantime, those with power outside of the legislature — the state’s civic, education and business leaders — should bring pressure to bear to keep the board from wandering further off track and taking the university’s reputation with it.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com/

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Jan. 29

The Charlotte Observer on race issues at Duke University:

Duke University has a problem with race. It might be a deep-rooted issue. It certainly has become a frequent one.

Late Sunday, a Duke administrator who advises graduate students stepped down after sending an email Friday advising students not to speak Chinese on campus. That administrator, Megan Neely, mentioned two other unnamed professors in her email who had privately criticized a pair of Chinese students for not speaking English. Neely apparently thought she was looking out for those students and others with her email. It was a poor choice.

The dean of Duke’s medical school has apologized for Neely’s email, and another Duke administrator said the school will examine the issues Neely raised. “We believe a global school should reflect the languages and cultures of its students,” said Duke VP and university spokesman Michael Schoenfeld. It was a textbook response — and an appropriate one.

But at Duke, it’s also become a well-practiced exercise in crisis management.

Last August, a racial slur was written on a sign outside Duke’s Center for Black Culture. Last April, a Duke administrator complained about rap music being played at a campus coffee shop, causing two baristas to be fired. That administrator, Larry Moneta, had previously come under fire for equating the destruction of a Confederate monument in Durham to vandalism of a Holocaust Museum.

In 2017, a Duke professor resigned after attacking a colleague’s suggestion of racial equity training, calling it “a waste.” In 2015, university officials condemned a professor for controversial comments about race to the New York Times. Also in 2015, a Duke fraternity was suspended by its national organization following an Asian-themed party that mocked the culture.

Duke is far from the only school to face bouts of racial insensitivity and ugliness, but what’s most troubling is how many of those Duke incidents involve faculty and administrators. It’s a signal perhaps of a deeper issue, an institutionalized racism that manifests itself not only in incidents that are easy to condemn, but in less overt behaviors that can be far more destructive. An example: In 2017, the dean of Duke Divinity School acknowledged that students may have been subject to racial insensitivity and unequal treatment from faculty.

Duke, for its part, appears aware of its issues. The school has consistently struck the right notes in condemning racist incidents and cultural insensitivity. It has invited campus speakers to discuss implicit bias and institutionalized racism, and it has encouraged such conversations not only on campus, but in the community.

This also is true: Duke’s campus has rapidly become more diverse in the 21st century, and what the school is experiencing is the kind of evolution that many organizations and institutions face when they become, to be frank, less white. That doesn’t mean, however, that Duke should be content to let such change come organically. Leadership should explore the root of this run of incidents, and at the least, mandate comprehensive equity and cultural competency training for administrators and faculty. Duke has a problem with race. It might be deep-rooted. It needs to be thoroughly addressed.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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