The Pulse

UNC chancellors get pay bump, but public doesn’t get to know (for now) how much

By: - October 30, 2015 3:46 pm

The pay for several chancellors in the University of North Carolina is going up, but system officials aren’t yet saying by how much.

The pay boost was authorized Friday during a two and a half-hour closed session of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors in Chapel Hill.

UNCsystemThe 32-member board did not take a vote on the pay changes in open session, a departure from the procedure required by law for most public bodies in the state.

Instead, it approved the pay changes through a “closed session authorization,” said Joni Worthington, a spokeswoman for the UNC system.

Responding to objections from several media outlets about the information being withheld and decisions being made outside of the public’s gaze, Worthington said the new salaries would be released once the chancellors are informed of their new salaries.

The pay changes comes several months after the board approved new salary ranges for chancellors and top administrators, a move that the board said would help UNC remain competitive with other higher education institutions.

It also comes a week after the board hired former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, offering her a compensation package with a base salary of $775,000 and much higher than the $600,000 her predecessor Tom Ross has made in his final year at UNC.

Meanwhile, rank and file employees of the 17-campus system have had a much different reality when it comes to pay, with little movement in own salaries since the start of the recession. University employees, like all state employees, will receive a $750 bonus this year as part of the budget passed this fall by the state legislature.

G.A. Sywassink, a UNC Board of Governors member who heads its personnel and tenure committee, said that he’d like to see about raises for other university staff “as soon as we can do it, as soon as we can make it happen.”

He said Spellings, when she starts in March, would be consulted about the desire to increase faculty and staff pay.

The pay increases for chancellors authorized in closed session were “fair and honest” and help the system keep valuable leaders in place, Sywassink said.

Generally, local public bodies like county commissions and city councils can only increase pay of employees when they take action in open session, said Frayda Bluestein, a law professor at the UNC School of Government who specializes in open meeting and public record issues.

Any decisions made in closed session are not valid, she said.

Bluestein couldn’t say if Friday’s action by the UNC board ran afoul of open meeting laws, because she was not intimately aware of how the governing board operates, but did say that salaries of public employees are always considered public records.

Worthington, the UNC spokeswoman, said the UNC system’s lawyer Thomas Shanahan felt the decision to make pay changes in closed session, and not open session, and then withhold that information for a period of time did not violate state public record and open meeting laws.

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Sarah Ovaska-Few

Sarah Ovaska-Few, former Investigative Reporter for N.C. Policy Watch for five years, conducted investigations and watchdog reports into issues of statewide importance. Ovaska-Few was also staff writer and reporter for six years with the News & Observer in Raleigh, where she reported on governmental, legal, political and criminal justice issues.