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History of the Board of Trustees at North Carolina State University

NC State Opens Its Doors

In 1889, North Carolina State University, then known as North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (A&M), opened its doors to students and began the tradition of land-grant scholarship within North Carolina. Since those early days, the university has been committed to the land-grant model of education, aiming to provide a working education for people from every background through real-world opportunities and public service. This mission was revolutionary at the time, differing greatly from the European university model, which focused on traditional disciplines. The birth of NC State and other land-grant colleges changed the face of higher education, providing new opportunities for young men to work in industry, agriculture and engineering.

Over the years, NC State has grown into a diverse institution with a core curriculum that includes a comprehensive range of academic disciplines while retaining a commitment to provide the people of North Carolina with high-quality, affordable education. Throughout it all, the university’s Board of Trustees has been an integral part of the development of the institution, from establishing its first campus building to helping manage a campus that is now home to more than 37,000 students.

The Creation and Work of the First Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees at the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts first met on April 22, 1887. It consisted of 15 members. State law mandated that both Democrats and Republicans be appointed to the Board of Trustees, which included 10 men from the North Carolina Board of Agriculture and five appointed by the governor and confirmed by the North Carolina Senate. These new trustees would be vital to the establishment and development of North Carolina’s new “farmers’ college.”

During the first meetings, the Board of Trustees elected Alexander Quarles Holladay as president of the college and hired the first six faculty members. They also set admissions requirements and policies for the new college and ordered that the campus, which consisted of 60 acres of land donated by Richard Stanhope Pullen, be further developed and improved. After ordering bricks made by the state penitentiary, the main campus building, later named Holladay Hall, slowly took shape. It was the only building on campus during those early years, housing students, trustees and faculty, as well as recreational and dining facilities.

The Board of Trustees also established tuition costs at $20 per year and determined that applicants for admission be at least 14 years old, of good moral character, have a good knowledge of English and North Carolina history and understand arithmetic through fractions. Board members themselves also were required to pay fees at eight dollars per month and $10 per year for room rent. These expenses barely helped sustain the board’s work at the college, which faced the financial hurdles of opening an ambitious land-grant college. The college received meager funding through interest on the land and a $10,000 appropriation from the state. It was not until later that the college would see greater funding opportunities to expand its work.

Board of Trustees Temporarily Dissolved

Throughout the first two decades of A&M’s existence, the college experienced immense change and growth, welcoming additional students, faculty and diversity of agricultural programs. After continual debate regarding the coursework and technical education provided to A&M students, however, state agricultural leaders expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of progressive reform in curricula and decided to dissolve the Board of Trustees and replace it with the State Board of Agriculture in 1901. This new board charged ahead with reforms to programming by increasing the number of students, decreasing emphasis on manual work in the field and ramping up the scientific and technical content of the college’s curricula.

The Return of the Board of Trustees

In 1904, however, A&M’s Board of Trustees returned. Under the guidance of the Board at this time, numerous key changes took place, including strengthening of the college’s engineering curriculum, de-emphasis of the school’s mandatory military involvement, establishment of postgraduate study, establishment of student government and creation of a textiles program. Each of these measures placed increasing responsibility on students and faculty to become even more active in research and education. At this time, students, in particular, took a more vocal stance on issues of self-expression and control of the college.

The 1920s became a time of turbulent change at A&M, now nicknamed “State College.” On the recommendation of George F. Zook, a specialist in higher education from the Bureau of Education, the college began restructuring its programs to accommodate an ever-growing student population and to reform the curriculum, to meet the growing needs of the community. Through it all, the Board of Trustees was present to oversee each aspect of these new developments, which included the rapid erection of new buildings, growing graduate degree programs, reorganization of separate schools to be headed by a dean, creation of adult continuing education and development of a general extension program.

Consolidated System Merges University Boards, Dissolves State College Board of Trustees

In 1931, the Consolidated University of North Carolina was created, bringing together State College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the North Carolina College for Women, now known as the University of North Carolina Greensboro, under a single board of trustees and one president, thus dissolving State College’s Board. The Consolidated University Board of Trustees consisted of 100 members and was selected by a committee of the North Carolina House of Representatives. Every two years, the special committee chose 25 members to fill eight-year terms on the board. Governor O. Max Gardner, who was responsible for this reform, ensured that State College would stick to its land-grant mission, providing the people of North Carolina with a technological education.

Throughout the next two decades, regulation and development of the state’s public colleges was split between college presidents and their administrations and the Consolidated University of North Carolina Board of Trustees. As higher education became more important to the state, many North Carolinians became keenly aware of the waste they saw in educational and institutional development among the state-supported colleges. Many of these individuals demanded that lawmakers examine the growth of these institutions perpetuated by ambitious university administrators. In 1955, a report from the Bryant Commission determined that there was, indeed, great waste in higher education and concluded that the Consolidated University had failed to meet the needs of North Carolina citizens. To this end, the 1955 General Assembly decided to create the State Board of Higher Education, which would oversee the fiscal and policy-related development of these institutions.

Although the Consolidated University and its trustees continued to hold authority, the waste continued and the state’s colleges (now upgraded to universities) still lacked the leadership and direction necessary to serve the state. Furthermore, Governor Robert Scott also expressed concern about the lobbying by various universities for funding from the legislature and directed that a system be devised to bring both the Consolidated University and the State Board of Higher Education together.

Board of Trustees Reemerges, Again

In 1971, the plans that Governor Scott requested finally materialized. Meeting in a special session, the General Assembly passed legislation to merge the 15 state universities and the North Carolina School of the Arts into the University of North Carolina System. In addition, this action created a 32-member Board of Governors to be made up of 16 members from the UNC system and 16 from the State Board of Higher Education. In March 1972, William Friday was chosen to lead the system. Furthermore, as a result of the new consolidated system, an individual Board of Trustees was established at each university to report to the Board of Governors, which controlled planning and budget.

That August, NC State University, as it was now called, formed an interim board of trustees, chaired by George M. Wood. In 1973, the Board became permanent and was chaired by Walter L. Smith. Since 1974, the Board of Trustees has comprised 13 members. The UNC Board of Governors elects eight members, and the Governor appoints four. The student body president serves as an ex officio member.

Over the course of the university’s rich history, NC State has benefited greatly from having such a diverse, dynamic group of the state’s and nation’s best and brightest leaders serving on its Board of Trustees — many of whom are alumni of NC State. As a result of their exceptional work and the work of many others, the NC State Board of Trustees has continued to honor the university’s historic mission of serving the people of North Carolina. The Board’s sound leadership has been crucial to the decisions and planning necessary to run a successful university, which continues to open its doors to future generations.