By now you probably know that the UNC Board of Governors, all of whom were elected in the last four years by the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate, voted this morning to force UNC President Tom Ross to resign effective January of 2016. Sarah Ovaska has a good rundown of the meeting and the aftermath.
Rumors about the dismissal started early this morning and were confirmed by the board after a closed session that lasted more than two hours.
There was no public discussion when the board returned to open session, only a vote on a cryptic “employment package” for the president. The board and Ross issued a joint statement that praised Ross’ performance and said the “timeline for transition was different” between Ross and the board. In other words he was forced out.
After the meeting Ross and Board Chair John Fennebresque met with reporters in one of the most bizarre press conferences you will ever see, with a combative Fennebresque unable to answer a basic question asked by reporter after reporter; why exactly was Ross forced to step down.
Fennebresque said it had nothing to do with his performance, the joint statement said that too. Fennebresque said he was very pleased with Ross’ efforts for the UNC system, that he had been doing a wonderful job.
He said it was not related to Ross’ age—he is 64—and Ross said explicitly that he was not ready to retire. Fennebresque said it had nothing to do with the scandals about athletics and academics at UNC-Chapel Hill, that Ross has handled those situations “admirably.”
And Fennebresque said it had nothing to do with politics either, the hardest answer of all to believe given the rumors about pressure on the board from legislative leaders to make a change.
It was about nothing apparently. UNC President Tom Ross, a man respected throughout North Carolina and across the country for his intellect, leadership and integrity, was being forced out for no apparent reason. Yes, Ross will get a severance and will remain on the job for a year but that is not the point.
He is being dismissed, force to resign before he wants to leave and for no reason that the head of the board that is firing him can identify.
What a cowardly and pathetic decision.
It has to be politics and the folks behind it at least ought to have the courage to admit it.
Supporters of the university and taxpayers across North Carolina deserve at least that much if a sadly overtly political board is firing a leader who they admit is doing a wonderful job running one of the most important public institutions in North Carolina.