Who’s in charge? An explainer of the leadership structure at UNC System schools

North Carolina’s public university system has a complex governance structure. Here’s a brief primer on the hierarchy of the UNC System:

Systemwide governance

The UNC Board of Governors is the governing body of the UNC System and its 17 constituent institutions. It sets policies that all campuses must follow. The board has 24 voting members, all of whom are appointed by the North Carolina General Assembly to four-year terms.

The Board of Governors chooses the UNC System president, who is the chief executive and administrative officer for the UNC System. The current UNC System president is Peter Hans.

University governance

Each university has a board of trustees, which serves as the governing board for that campus. At most schools in the UNC System, the board of trustees has 13 members. Eight are chosen by the Board of Governors, and four are chosen by the legislature. The student body president serves as a 13th, but non-voting, member.

Republican lawmakers passed a bill last year that added two additional trustees at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State, increasing the size of those boards to 15 members. In that bill, lawmakers gave themselves the power to appoint the two additional members.

Each campus also has a chancellor, who serves as the head of the university and reports to the president of the UNC System. Per system policy, the chancellor search process includes a committee of up to 13 members. The UNC System president and the chair of the university’s board of trustees are responsible for appointing members to that committee, which must include trustees, faculty, students, staff and alumni. Members of the Board of Governors are also required to be part of the committee. The committee submits its preferred candidates to the board of trustees, which then submits finalists to the UNC System president. The UNC System president ultimately chooses a final candidate to be voted on by the Board of Governors.

This version of the process was adopted last year and gave the UNC System president and Board of Governors more direct influence over the process than they’d had previously.

The provost is the chief academic officer of the university and reports directly to the chancellor. The chancellor appoints a search committee and ultimately chooses a finalist who emerges from the committee’s process, then submits the final recommendation to the board of trustees.

Who is (really) in charge at UNC?

The UNC System has faced accusations of political interference and partisan overreach by North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature, who has exerted an increasing amount of influence over the system in recent years. Lawmakers have given themselves near-total appointment power to the system’s governing boards, which has dramatically tilted the ideological balance of the boards in favor of Republicans.