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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, April 4, 1990. Interview L-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Politics of consolidating the state university system

Scott discusses the political complexities that surrounded the consolidation of the university system during his first years as governor. As governor, Scott was, by proxy, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Consolidated University System, which he describes as a fairly ineffectual position. In order to ensure that his attention was equally given to all of the institutions of higher education in the state, Scott had the legislature name him as the chairman of the Board of Higher Education, as well. He describes the purpose of that position and how he worked with Cameron West, the executive director of the Board of Higher Education, and William Friday, the president of the University of North Carolina System, on the consolidation process. Additionally, he discusses the changing role of Chapel Hill as the center of action during this time period and explains the role of the newly created local regional boards.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, April 4, 1990. Interview L-0193. 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 LINK:
Yeah, so once the precedent had been established for getting political about higher education, you do other things?
BOB SCOTT:
Yeah, sure. Then the, you had the Consolidated University at that time consisting of first four, and then six institutions, going with a budget, then the others coming and fighting their own budget battles in the legislature, and the legislators were getting weary of that, you know. Having to, you know, form coalitions. That is to say, the people from the Elizabeth City are those supporting the black institutions ߞwould have to form coalitions with others in order to get what they wanted and whatever. So, the people, the legislators got a little weary about it, and then the public began to say, you know, that this is ridiculous when they saw the legislature granting University titles to all the institutions. When I came on board as Governor, by law I was Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Consolidated University, and so I presided at their meetings. It was largely a big head position, because the Governor didn't have time to deal with the issues. He simply went to the meetings, presided, and so forth. The real work of the University was done by an Executive Committee, which was a very powerful group, tightly held and jealously guarded their prerogatives as the Executive Committee of the University. I got the Legislature to name the Governor, which, in my case was me, as the Chairman of the Board of Higher Education. Now the Board of Higher Education had the responsibility of a coordinating function, not a governing function, but a coordinating function for all the other institutions outside of the University. That is, the four-year institutionsߞthe Pembrokes, the Appalachian, and all of the others. Now, there was an editorial criticism that I was trying to get a power grabߞnothing wrong with me being Chairman of the University Board of Trustees, but didn't see any reason for me to be the Chairman of the Board of Higher Education. Well, my reasoning there was that why should the Governor give his time and attention just to the four institutions, or six that were in the Consolidated University. Why shouldn't the Governor give his time and attention also to the other institutions in the system? Again, this was a matter of perception on the part of the supporters of the university, and they just didn't want the Governor giving that kind of attention to the others. I said that the Governor is responsible for all of higher education in North Carolina, not just the four institutions in the university system. Anyway, that came about, and I sat on that Board and was much more, by the very nature of it hands-on and involved with Higher Education Board, which was largely a coordinating and planning board. Much more so that the University Board which was run by the Executive Committee, and the 100-person Board of Trustees. Now the other Trustee really didn't have that much to do with it, because with a 100-person Board, you know there is not much that you can do. So after looking at what was happening in the legislature, Bill Friday and, of course I went to work with him, as president of the University because I was Chairman of the Board of the University. Dr. Cameron West, who was the Staff Director, the Executive Director of the Board of Higher Education, and as Chairman of that Board, I worked with him. Well, I began to hear from the Board of Higher Education and Dr. West and from the University folks and Bill Friday that there has got to be a better way to do this that what we are having in North Carolina. Well, it occurred to me, finally that okay, if I have the two top professionals, Bill Friday and Cam West, saying the same thing, then maybe the time has come to try and do something. I began to mull it over in my mind, and I would talk to each one of them individually and there was no plan, no concept really, but I finally put together a group, and we began to talk about how this might occur. Well, Bill Friday agreed that we needed to do something to bring them all together in some way. So did Cam West. The trick was how to do it, and as weߞas this effort evolved, and weߞfinally got to the plan that was put before the legislature, that was when we began to have differences of opinion about how it ought to be done, not what should be done, but how it should be done.
WILLIAM LINK:
Bill Friday agreed in principle.... This was 1970, 1969?
BOB SCOTT:
Yes, '69, '70. You know, it wasn't a thing that we all got in the room and said that you know.....
WILLIAM LINK:
Just conversation?
BOB SCOTT:
Just a lot of conversation and discussion about it.
WILLIAM LINK:
He agreed that there.....
BOB SCOTT:
Yeah, he agreed and he was very much involved in those areas, I think. Of course, Bill Friday worked for the University and that Executive Committee was powerful. When they took the position, no we are not going to do this, Bill Friday had no choice. He had to support their position.
WILLIAM LINK:
Even though that wasߞ
BOB SCOTT:
Or else your top chief would have to resign, and Bill Friday is not the kind of person that's gonnaߞif he is going to stay with them, he is going to do what the Board says for him to do. He is just that type of person. I have no doubt that he probably had honest differences of what actually evolved. But the fact that we needed to do somethingߞno, he supported that and always has, otherwise I wouldn't have tried it to begin with. Anyhow, you know the outcome of it, but that was some of the background of it. And Bill opposed it very effectively, and again he was using that network of the alumni and friends of the University. They were the leaders in the state, but politically what the University had failed to realize was two things. First of all, they didn't really think that we could get it done and didn't really get concerned about it until almost the 11th hour, and we had already laid too much groundwork for it and had marshalled public opinion through the bully pulpitߞthe Governor's Office, you know, we need to do something and that kind of thing. Then the University leadership of the alumni, and the Executive Committee of the Trustees, and so forth suddenly realized that this might actually happen. But it was a little too late then. That was the first thing. Then the second thing that they failed to realizeߞor well maybe they realized it, but there wasn't anything that they could do about itߞwas that the in recent years there had been graduates of other institutions; regional colleges, East Carolina, Appalachian, and so forth, that had moved into the positions of Legislative leadership and were there also. They didn't have that loyalty to Chapel Hill that some of the others did and N.C. State, of course had their folks out. And, it wasn't intended this way at all but it sort of became everybody against Chapel Hill because Chapel Hill was leading the fight against it, and the University Board of Trustees, with its Executive Committee, and this was Mr. Bryant and Mr. Hill and others who were very influential and powerful people. You know, even though they were the Board over N.C. State, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, it was perceived to be just Chapel Hill. And a lot of N.C. State people and UNCG people felt like that was indeed the case, and it would be better off under some kind of other structure that will dilute that concentration of influence on the Chapel Hill campus.
WILLIAM LINK:
I get the feeling that, on the part of Charlotte, Greensboro and especially State, the Board of the Consolidated University forces are really Chapel Hill forces, which is what you just said exactly, and that at least on a very subdued level many people wouldn't have been unhappy if anything changed.
BOB SCOTT:
Oh yes, that is exactly right, and I knew that back in those days, I guess my political antenna were sharper than they are now, and I sense that, and I knew to be the case. In the end, it translated into a final victory. But, it was not without its cost, in that the original proposal we had was, you know, it was modified and amended and so forth. I didn't think that we ought to have a Board of Governors as large as they have. I thought it to be more effective if it had 15 or 20. Well, when you have a shotgun marriage, you know, you have to bring a lot of people in to get the support of the Republicans, we had to agree to put minorities on the boards, to get the support of the blacks, we had to agree, to get the support of women, we had to do that. You know all of those were political compromises.
WILLIAM LINK:
You made trade-offs?
BOB SCOTT:
Yeah, oh yeah. That is the art of legislation.
WILLIAM LINK:
One of the interesting features of the final package, as it emergedߞand it was one of the important parts of your original proposal, or one of the proposalsߞwas the creation of local boards of trustees. What was the rationale behind that; I mean, was it a way to hold the regionals in?
BOB SCOTT:
Yes, to hold the regionals in, and also the feeling that, you know, getting local support for the college. At Appalachian, a sense of ownership, if you will, and support. I felt like we needed, you know, some local input, although there was no guarantee that the trustees from the local colleges were to be local people, necessarily, I mean a lot of times they are not. But, generally an alumni of that school who love it and will support it. I felt that was important in raising money for those institutions and to advise the chancellorߞnot unlike one would have a local bank board, where you have got your "Big Board at Wachovia," and every bank has got their little advisory board, and it was somewhat like that. They would have their ties to the community. But that was basically to bring those people in.