Statement from Lisa Levenstein, Vice Chair of the Board, and John Sherer, Director of The University of North Carolina Press
Thank you to the individuals and organizations who have expressed concern about recent events surrounding the election of board members at UNC Press. Many of you rightfully voiced support for the reelection of Eric Muller to the Press’s Board of Governors. Eric served tirelessly and brilliantly as chair of the board during one of the most successful periods in the history of the Press. He was twice elected by the UNC System board and was unanimously nominated by the Press’s board to serve a third term.
The Press was founded in 1922, decades prior to the existence of the UNC System. Members of the faculty and staff at UNC Chapel Hill established it as an independent not-for-profit company to ensure the Press would have the autonomy and independence it would need to successfully support the creation and dissemination of cutting-edge scholarship. In the 1970s, the Press’s board chose to affiliate itself with the UNC System. They amended the board’s bylaws to allow the UNC System board to approve its members, so that in return, the UNC campuses across the state would benefit from partnering with a world-class university press. But even with this affiliation between the UNC System and the Press, the only organization that can nominate UNC Press board members is the Press’s board. The Press’s board is solely responsible for oversight of the Press’s editorial program and strategic plans. The Press’s bylaws may only be changed by authority of the Press’s board.
We continue to believe that the Press’s affiliation with the UNC System is mutually beneficial. The Press deeply values its role as the press for the state of North Carolina, and it has worked in a spirit of cooperation and entrepreneurship to support publishing efforts at every campus in the system. In its efforts to lower the costs of materials for students and libraries, the Press is harnessing new technologies and strategies to reinvent academic publishing. Former UNC System president C. D. Spangler once called the Press “the crown jewel of the UNC System.” We know he’d be proud of the work we’re doing today on behalf of the people of North Carolina.
There are currently two openings on the Press’s board, and we have formed a nominating committee to identify candidates for service. The Press has benefited enormously from having board members who are leaders in their fields, who speak on matters of public importance, and who value the free exchange of ideas.
As we embark on the next nomination cycle, we regret that the UNC System Board of Governors has not responded to our queries about their refusal to consider Eric Muller’s nomination. We call for greater communication and transparency. The involvement of the UNC System board in our process, as prescribed by our bylaws, can continue to be an important signal of the Press’s commitment to serving the statewide system. But the System board’s involvement must include a commitment to communication as well as respect for the Press board’s expertise and century-long track record of success in independently identifying its own members.