Governor Cooper established the Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina (the Commission) by Executive Order 272 on November 1, 2022 to advise the Office of the Governor and the public on the status of public university governance in North Carolina and on strategies to successfully position the state’s universities to meet the needs of future students.
The Commission will assess the current appointment system of public university governance in the University of North Carolina System and make recommendations to the Governor on how it can be reformed and strengthened. The Executive Order requires commissioners to deliver a report no later than June 2023. The report will include an assessment of the current public university governance structure and any additional recommendations as requested by the Governor regarding the need for support and oversight of the state’s public universities.
Tom Ross, President of the University of North Carolina (UNC) System from 2011 to 2016 and Margaret Spellings, President of the UNC System from 2016 to 2019, serve as co-chairs of the bipartisan Commission. Members of the Commission come from varying backgrounds related to experience with the UNC System, general experience with higher education governance, and experience with higher education best practices.
- Thomas W. Ross, Sr., Co-Chair - Ross is the former President of the Volcker Alliance, President Emeritus of the University of North Carolina System, and President Emeritus of Davidson College. He previously served as a Superior Court Judge and director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
- Margaret Spellings, Co-Chair - Spellings serves as President and CEO of Texas 2036, a non-partisan, non-profit organization building long-term, data-driven strategies to secure Texas’ prosperity through the state's bicentennial and beyond. Previously, she served as the U.S. Secretary of Education and White House Chief Domestic Policy Advisor under President George W. Bush; President of the George W. Bush Presidential Center; and President Emeritus of the University of North Carolina System.
- Representative John R. Bell IV - Representative Bell is a native of Mount Olive, North Carolina and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and Sociology. He is serving his fifth term representing the citizens of House District 10 which includes Greene, Johnston, and Wayne counties. Bell has served as House Majority Leader since August 2016.
- W. Louis Bissette, Jr. - Bissette is an attorney with the law firm of McGuire Wood & Bissette in Asheville, where he served two terms as Mayor. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Wake Forest University and UNC Asheville, and he is a former member of the Board of Trustees of Western Carolina University and the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina System, serving as Chairman from 2015 to 2018.
- Dr. Nicole Dobbins - Dobbins is an Associate Professor of Special Education in the Department of Educator Preparation at North Carolina A&T State University. Her research involves equitable and inclusive educational strategies with emphasis on differentiation through the application of Universal Design for Learning. Dr. Dobbins is currently the Vice Chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly and the NC A&T State University Faculty Senate. She is committed to ensuring faculty have a voice in shared governance through advocacy, communication and collaborative efforts.
- Representative John Fraley - Former Representative Fraley served in the North Carolina House of Representatives from 2015-2020. Fraley is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill. He is a current member of the UNC Board of Governors and serves as Board Chair of myFutureNC.
- Isaiah Green - A recent graduate of UNC Asheville, Green is the former student member of the UNC System Board of Governors and the former Student Body President at UNC Asheville. During his time in both of these positions, he worked collaboratively with university and community leaders to ensure students had a voice and were kept engaged in institutional governance.
- Ann Goodnight - Goodnight has been an advocate for children and education for more than 25 years. She is a co-founder and board member of Cary Academy and a trustee of North Carolina State University. She serves as Chair of the Goodnight Educational Foundation, an active board member for myFutureNC, and serves on the board of directors of the GSK Foundation. In addition, Mrs. Goodnight also serves on the boards of the YMCA of the Triangle and the NC Science Festival.
- Dr. Clifford A. Jones, Sr. - Jones has served as the Senior Pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte since 1982. Jones previously served on the Winston-Salem State University Board of Trustees.
- Gary Locklear - Locklear is a retired Superior Court Judge. He is currently working part-time with the Robeson County Attorney’s Office. Locklear has previously served on the UNC Pembroke Board of Trustees.
- Senator Gladys A. Robinson - Robinson has just been elected to her seventh term in the North Carolina Senate. She is 1st Vice Chair of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus. Robinson previously served on the UNC Board of Governors for 10 years and now serves as the North Carolina/South Carolina Co-Chair of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators Region V and the Governor’s State Health Coordinating Council.
- Karen A. Popp - Popp is a partner at the global law firm Sidley Austin LLP, where she is an international lawyer and co-leader of her practice group. Popp is the former Chair of UNC Charlotte’s Board of Trustees and Foundation Board. She was the President of the UNC Law Alumni Association and a founding member of the Higher Education Works Foundation. Popp was the first female student body president in the UNC System. Popp has previously served as a commercial litigator at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City, Associate White House Counsel to President Clinton, attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice, and a federal prosecutor in New York City.
- Cressie Thigpen, Jr. - Thigpen served as a Special Superior Court Judge and on the North Carolina Court of Appeals. He served as the first African-American President of the North Carolina State Bar in 1999. He is a former Chair of the North Carolina Central University Board of Trustees and previously served on the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.
- John L. Townsend, III - A native of Lumberton, Townsend moved to New York in 1982 where he spent his professional career at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Goldman Sachs, and Tiger Management. He has served on the Board of Trustees of UNC-Chapel Hill and currently serves as the Chair of the UNC Investment Fund which manages the endowments of UNC-Chapel Hill and other System institutions. Townsend also serves as Chair of the current UNC-Chapel Hill Capital Campaign, which will conclude this year.
- Brad Wilson - Wilson is CEO Emeritus of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. He served on the UNC Board of Governors for 16 years and served as Chair of the Board for 4 years. A graduate of Appalachian State University, Wake Forest Law School, and Duke University, he has served as an Executive in Residence at Wake Forest University and NC A&T State University. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill.